What will make you more persuasive in 2014? Thinking less about what you want and more about what you deliver for others. Work with the principle of benefit exchange to win over your colleagues.
A benefit exchange is the heart of persuasion. It answers the question, "What's in it for me?" for the person you are seeking to influence. In other words, it's a benefit you promise in exchange for someone taking your desired action.
I used to be a marketing executive and also taught marketing as an adjunct professor, and in my experience, this is the single most powerful yet neglected concept in communicating in the workplace. Benefit exchanges are useful for all kinds of situations, such as getting someone at work to agree to your proposal, inspiring people to change their habits or compelling someone to buy your product.
But we so often get the benefit exchange wrong. The number one error is we talk about attributes vs. benefits. We get lost in the qualities of an idea or a product rather than translating those attributes into the benefits they deliver for a colleague or customer. Telling me that a proposal addresses a problem in workflow is citing an attribute; demonstrating how it saves money or increases efficiency is showing a benefit. Rack and pinion steering is an attribute of a car; responsiveness that makes you feel safer on the road is a benefit.
Good benefit exchanges focus on what your audience wants – not what you want. That's the second common error we make. Don't fall into the trap of communicating based on the benefits you desire. Think from the perspective of those you want to influence and speak to that world view.
Those are ways we go wrong. So how do we do it right? If you want to be more persuasive this year, here are five ways to build a strong benefit exchange and win hearts and minds in the process.
Make the Benefit Immediate: Few of us take action based on a benefit that we expect to receive in the far future. It is human nature to seek instant satisfaction over distant gratification. How can you make your case that if someone does what you want, they will reap immediate rewards? Answer the question: what will be better tomorrow?
Make It Personal: A compelling benefit needs to make people feel their lives will be better as individuals or within their tight circles of friends, family, community or work. At the end of the day, the personal connection, not the grand concept, grabs our attention. Make sure you're focused on why your agenda is specifically relevant to the person you wish to persuade.
Speak to Your Audience's Values: We can’t easily change what other people believe, but by plugging into their existing mind-set, we unleash great power behind our message. Make sure the benefit you are communicating is something others seek – not just what you want. Those two things are rarely the same, but we often imagine they are.
Know What You're Up Against: Think competitively about your benefit. Is it better than what people get for doing nothing – or something else instead? Don’t forget there’s a reason people aren’t taking the action you seek. They may be deriving benefits from those alternate behaviors. How can you shape a benefit better than sticking to the status quo?
Be Real: Last, you need to make sure your benefit exchange is credible and honest. People need to believe in what you communicate. Ask someone who is respected to back you up. Or show other people gaining the promised benefit. Or tell a good story that is a true example of the benefit in action. You want to persuade by keeping your promises.
If people aren’t doing what you want, you may find out why by reviewing this list. Is it time to better focus on what you deliver? It may well be, because a great benefit exchange makes it far easier (and faster) to get to yes.