Business communicators have something to learn from the language of romance, according to Arizona State University Professor of Psychology, Robert Ciadini, in his article, What Lovers Tell Us About Persuasion, at the Harvard Business School Working Knowledge.
He cites the results of a study on communication patterns of dating couples, done by research psychologists in Texas (OriWood, and Simpson, 2002). The communicators were found to employ three styles of persuasive communication.
The most unsuccessful was the coercive approach which involved threats if the partner did not yield to the demand. This, in fact, drove the partner farther away from the communicator’s desired result.
The second style was the rational approach, in which the communicator argued that his or her position was more reasonable and should, therefore, be adopted by the partner. This did not change the partner’s position.
The most successful style, resulting in a significant shift toward the communicator’s requested direction, was the relationship-raising approach. The communicator simply mentioned the existing relationship before making the request, or incorporated the words “we,” “our,” and “us” into the request.
Ciadini notes that this approach does not tackle the validity of the communicator’s position but “offers an entirely different reason for change—the relationship itself, with all its attendant trust, strength, and security.” For the author, “the relationship is the message.”
Although that relationship is already a known factor between the parties concerned, Ciadini underlines the importance of bringing the issue to the forefront of the recipient’s awareness just at the moment before making a request. This, he says, will ensure maximum impact on the recipient’s decision and response.
“This basis for change fits quite well with the way I have come to view much of the research on influence lately. The thing that is most likely to guide a person’s behavioral decisions isn’t the most potent or familiar or instructive aspect of the whole situation; rather, it’s the one that is most prominent in consciousness at the time of the decision.”
How effective can this approach be in the business world?
Ciadini says British researchers studying professional labor and contract negotiators over a nine-year span found that the most successful bargainers of the group “spent 400 percent more time looking for areas of mutuality (e.g., shared interests) than did their mediocre counterparts.”
The author points to other researchers who “have determined that when workforce members are focused on a shared organizational identity, their pro-organization intentions and activities increase in such arenas as organizational alignment, loyalty, and citizenship (Haslam, Powell, and Turner, 2000).”
The approach may seem simple and easy but is not used often enough. The author cites studies showing that people tend to notice differences over commonalities (Olson and Janes, 2002), even when those commonalities are real, present, and waiting to be tapped (Thompson and Hrebec, 1996) and more so under anxiety-provoking circumstances (Driskell, Salas, and Johnston, 1999).
Hopefully, Ciadini’s article reaches and convinces a wider audience and spreads the word on this very human aspect of gentle persuasion in business communication.