Pallavi Pinakin learns the art of winning over detractors in the workplace

For a lucky few, being persuasive comes naturally. With their friendliness, charm and language skills, these people are able to effortlessly win over their detractors at the workplace and wield an impressive degree of influence.

Fortunately, persuasion is a skill, which means it can be learned and honed. Here are five science based recommendations for mastering the art of getting people on board with your ideas and plans.

STOP ARGUING Do you often find yourself being pulled into a heated debate as you try to bring the other person over to your point of view? You feel your voice getting louder, your tone becoming more aggressive and your audience slipping away – but you persist.

This is because the human brain is addicted to being right, thanks to the resulting pleasurable rush of dopamine and adrenaline.

However, winning a debate isn’t an effective persuasion tactic because engagement rather than argument is the path to changing hearts and minds. If you want to be really influential, you need to consciously rein in your argumentative tendencies.

Stop thinking about scoring points and coming up with one-liners that leave your listeners stumped. That may work in a TV courtroom but it will fail in the office. Instead, facilitate a dialogue where the other person feels respected and heard.

BE FLEXIBLE Don’t start by expressing certainty that you are right and the other person is wrong. This will only result in the opposition digging in its heels further, making it highly unlikely that you’ll be able to change their stance. This phenomenon is known as the ‘amplification hypothesis.’

Instead, adopt a more flexible and less black-and-white attitude. Find ways to align yourself with the opposing party by agreeing with some of the views they express (choose opinions that are closest to your own so you are not being hypocritical). Finding some common ground at the outset will make them far more amenable to what you have to say.

BE A LISTENER When you’re thinking about how to convince people, you are probably focussing on what you’re going to say. Ironically, how you listen is equally important. People are much more open to being persuaded when they feel their concerns are being heard and addressed. So being an empathetic listener is key to gaining influence.

Make an effort to speak less and listen more. Hear out people’s perspectives and take the time to address the issues they raise – even a simple acknowledgment that you consider their views to be valid goes a long way.

Create a space for counter views to be aired and discussed. For instance, if you’re working on launching a new initiative, schedule a team meeting for everyone to share their thoughts and resolve potential problems. In fact, you can go further and turn a critic into a collaborator by seeking advice instead of offering an opinion.

NUDGE THEORY If you’re trying to convince coworkers to make better choices in the workplace, give the ‘nudge theory’ a shot. Developed by Nobel Laureate Richard Thaler, it is the use of minor interventions and prompts to encourage desirable behaviour. The idea behind nudge theory isn’t to mandate change but remove barriers that stand in the way. When people don’t make smart decisions through additional thought and effort, they need to be nudged in the right direction.

One such strategy involves tweaking the environment and manner in which options are presented. For example, if you want people to eat healthier meals at the cafeteria, place nutritious food upfront and at eye level, and limit junk items to the bottom or top shelves. That way, people don’t have to go looking for healthy food during a rushed lunch break… because it’s right there!

Another approach is to revise the default setting. For instance, you can nudge people to have short but effective meetings by changing the preset duration in your workplace’s scheduling software. People will then schedule longer meetings only when necessary.

SOCIAL PRESSURE Research shows that social incentives often work better than bonuses when it comes to persuasion.

A study on hand hygiene at a hospital found that peer pressure generated long-lasting improvements in compliance while the benefits of financial incentives trailed off soon after the payout.

Social pressure techniques adopted by the hospital included recognising those who followed good hand hygiene practices by sending them congratulatory emails and having their names written on hand shaped cards that were placed on the walls. And those found lacking were sent firm reminders by the chief nursing officer.

The popular ‘wall of fame’ found at many workplaces is another example of social incentivisation. The positive visual feedback subtly motivates employees to do better.