Getting Buy-In: The Art of Persuading, Negotiating, and Influencing

July 6, 2017

Getting Buy-In: The Art of Persuading, Negotiating, and Influencing

For many people, just making a decision can be hard enough. But convincing others of an idea and its merits and getting support can be even tougher.

Let’s start with basic definitions:


  • Persuading. The ability to convince others to take appropriate action.
  • Negotiating. The ability to discuss and reach a mutually satisfactory agreement.
  • Influencing. The ability to effectively persuade and negotiate.


Persuasion: The Basic Skills

It is essential that you explain the benefits of your argument. Salespeople will often use the phrase “sell the benefits not the features.” For example, if you were attempting to persuade a shift manager to arrive at work half an hour earlier, you might emphasize the benefits of the extra time—a chance for you two to meet and agree on the day’s priorities, an opportunity to get a better briefing from the outgoing shift, and so on.


You need to get your points across clearly and concisely. Present your case logically, and make sure that any claims you make can be verified. It is equally important that you understand the concerns and needs of the person you are dealing with. Ask yourself the question, “Are they ready, willing, and able to make or embrace the changes that your idea implies?”


We often assume that people aren’t willing to take up our idea, but that isn’t always the case. It might be that they are willing but don’t have the skills or resources, or that they are able and willing, but are not ready. It may be that there is too much else going on or they don’t the importance of the change. Lastly, they may be able, but are just not willing—they don’t know the answer to "What’s in it for me?" Focus on the needs of the other party.


Lastly, remember the impact of negativity. The more tentative the language you use is—“isn’t it?” “you know,” “um, mm” and “I mean,”—the less people are likely to buy into your argument. Don't couch your ideas in apologies or worries—“I’m sorry that…” … “my concern is…” and so forth.


10 Keys to Successful Negotiation

Negotiation is a complex set of skills and techniques to master. Some training and development in this area is recommended for all professionals. In the meantime, here are ten key pointers:


  1. Separate the people from the problem. Never allow a negotiation to get personal. Be hard on the issues at hand, but gentle on the people. Make sure that they will leave the negotiation content.
  2. Focus on interests not positions. Positions are the publicly stated wants or desires. Do not argue over positions. This will only harden each party’s resolve. Explore these positions to the interests that underlie them. If you address the other party’s interests adequately, their positions will melt away.
  3. Understand your own interests. Are you sure what you really want out of a negotiation? Think of the short, medium and longer term, consult your stakeholders. If you do not know what you really want, you are unlikely to get it.
  4. Remember the generic human interests. Being treated fairly, having control, and saving face—and ensure these are met for the other party.
  5. The other party’s perception of the issue isn’t part your challenge, it is all of it.  Understand why the other party sees the issue as they do. Assume they are acting rationally and intelligently, and map out their decision-making processes.
  6. Frame the context of the negotiation. The first things you say will frame the discussion. Spend some time thinking about how you want to use that.
  7. Explore your options. Having well worked out alternatives will make a stronger and better informed negotiator.
  8. Match the right negotiator to the right negotiation. Are you the right person? If not, who is? If it is a team, what roles will each member play?
  9. Negotiation is a process, not a performance. Step back and plan your negotiation. It may take several rounds before an accommodation is arrived at, think out your strategy.
  10. Listen actively, and listen with purpose. Most negotiations fail because one party doesn’t believe the other heard them. Don’t make that mistake.

The 6 Principles of Influence

Drawing on the existing research, Robert Cialdini (Influence: Science and Practice,1984) identified the six principles of influence:


  1. Reciprocity. We are hard-wired to return favors, pay back debts, and treat others as they treat us. According to the idea of reciprocity, this can lead us to feel obliged to others. This is because we’re uncomfortable with feeling indebted to them. If a colleague helps you when you’re busy with a project, you might feel obliged to support her ideas for improving team processes.
  2. Commitment and consistency. We have a deep desire to be consistent in thought and action. For this reason, once we’ve committed to something, we’re then more inclined to go through with it. For instance, you’d probably be more likely to support a colleague’s project proposal if you had shown interest when he first talked to you about his ideas.
  3. Social proof. Our sense of “safety in numbers’’ dominates much of our behavior. For example, we’re more likely to work late if others in our team are doing the same. Here, we’re assuming that if lots of other people are doing something, then it must be OK. We’re particularly susceptible to this principle when we’re feeling uncertain, and we’re even more likely to be influenced if the people we see seem to be similar to us.
  4. Liking. We are more likely to be influenced by people we like. Likeability comes in many forms. People might be similar or familiar to us, they might give us compliments, or we may just simply trust them.
  5. Authority. We feel a sense of duty or obligation to people in positions of authority. Job titles, uniforms, and even accessories like cars or gadgets can lend an air of authority and persuade us to accept what certain people say.
  6. Scarcity. Things are more attractive when their availability is limited or when we stand to lose the opportunity to acquire them on favorable terms. For instance, we might buy something immediately if we’re told that it’s the last one, or that a special offer will soon expire.

Convincing others' of the merits of an idea or plan needn't be a hand-wringing experience fraught with worry and doubt. Rather, with the right skills, it can be pleasant, effective, and result in much-needed change.

The Authors: 

Ian Stewart, Ph.D., is global head of Kaplan’s Leadership and Organisational Practice. Before joining Kaplan, he spent more than 20 years lecturing in leadership and related subjects at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, as well as teaching at the Open University.