Direct and Indirect Persuasion

We discuss what we've learned from our latest Research Digest.

Persuasion Digest

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We recently published the latest Qlik Innovation and Design Research Digest, on the subject of “Persuasive Communication.” Reviewing the survey results, I became aware of a considerable irony. We used the data to understand persuasion, but our results revealed that many of those surveyed do not themselves use data when persuading others. Instead, they primarily apply their knowledge and experience. This proved true whether their organizational culture felt collaborative or autocratic.

At Qlik, we believe strongly in the power of data to transform businesses and to drive new opportunities. So naturally, we have to wonder what is going on. Who uses data and who falls back on other forms of influence? Can we discern noticeable differences between other aspects of their working style?

One of the clearest trends found in our research was a strong preference for direct, personal meetings. 63% of respondents consider “An in-person meeting or presentation” as their preferred method. Even where a discussion has been indirect, if more is needed the majority surveyed (64%) prefer the follow-up to be direct.

The Manager’s Role

I can easily imagine that in a one-to-one meeting or email, facts and figures may carry less weight than the gravitas of the persuader. Tellingly, these direct meetings are mostly brokered by functional or departmental managers. Those in lower-level supervisor roles, or even non-supervisory, mostly use structured presentations.

As I mention in the introduction to the Research Digest, this echoes an important lesson from Clarke and Crossland’s book, “The Leader’s Voice.” They describe “quadrants of communication” divided between private or public and direct or indirect interactions.

One advantage of direct communication lies in the ability to interact easily with the audience. You can gauge the reactions of your listeners in the form of a dialog of some sort, whether in public to a group or in private as a one-to-one meeting. The dialog may not be explicit - no words need be spoken back - but a good communicator watches for expressions and eye contact and gestures that help them to tune their message.

With indirect communication, on the other hand, we get no immediate feedback. A private, indirect, communication such as an email to a colleague, can sit in her inbox for days before a reply. She may read the email several times. She may draft several different answers. The eventual response may be off-the-cuff and casual, or deeply considered. You won’t know. Indirect communication passes between us full of difficulties - as anyone knows who has inadvertently angered a colleague with a poorly worded missive.

Perhaps then it should come as no surprise that our survey reveals strong preferences for direct and, where possible, private communication.

Data Plays its Part

So is there a role for data-driven persuasion? Absolutely. The clearest evidence lies in our finding that those who persuade almost always through structured presentations to a group, prefer to use data to do so. If you are non-supervisor, and possibly quite junior, but trying to persuade a team, it may be difficult to rely on your experience and knowledge. In such cases data backs up your personal role. Similarly, functional managers presenting detailed arguments and plans find data most useful as a persuader. Senior managers and executives, naturally enough, are more likely to rely on their authority to persuade.

The secret, as ever, is to choose your material, your format and your techniques with your very specific audience in mind.

There’s much more about persuasion in our Winter 2016 Research Digest. I hope you enjoy reading it!

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