by Meridith Levinson

The Power of Persuasion in a Job Search

Feb 04, 20096 mins
CareersIT LeadershipRelationship Building

Whether you're seeking a new job or clinging to an existing one, persuading people of your value is going to be your key to success during this recession. In this Q&A, James Borg, author of "Persuasion: The Art of Influencing People," explains how to persuade people without being pushy.

When you’re hunting for a new job, you may not realize that your main objective is persuasion: You need to persuade members of your network to introduce you to people who might connect you with a job. You need to persuade HR professionals and recruiters to consider your résumé. You need to persuade hiring managers that you’re the perfect candidate for their organizations.


The Power of Persuasion

The Art of Persuasion

How to Influence People

The Art of Deciphering Body Language

Some people are easier to convince in your job search than others. Getting friends and colleagues to make introductions for you doesn’t require much persuasive effort because they know you and (presumably) like you. Therefore, they’re willing to work on your behalf. Your powers of persuasion with them stem from your credibility and likeability—not from your rhetorical prowess.

A hiring manager, on the other hand, generally doesn’t know you from any other candidate’s resume, so you have to work harder to convince her that you’re worthy of her time. In such situations, job seekers would benefit from understanding the fundamentals of persuasion. Here to explain them is James Borg, a workplace psychologist, business consultant and author of Persuasion: The Art of Influencing People (FT Press 2009).

According to Borg, effective persuasion combines equal parts communication and observation. It hinges on having good people skills—being able to read people, being a good listener and being empathetic.

You need to be a keen observer of the person you’re trying to persuade, says Borg, so that you can match the tone and language you use in conversation to the other person’s tone and language. You should watch how the other person reacts physically—through their facial expressions and body language—to what you’re saying. If you notice a negative reaction, he adds, you know you need to change your tact.

To be an effective influencer, you also need to be likeable and trustworthy, says Borg. “Whether you’re selling an idea or a product, people tend to buy people,” he says. “If I like you, I will listen to you. If I don’t like you or your message, I won’t listen to you. Getting someone to listen to you is the first stage of persuasion.”

Persuasion isn’t inherently difficult. To do it right, says Borg, people just need to focus on listening to the person they’re trying to persuade and adjusting their communication accordingly.

Whether you’re seeking a new job or clinging to an existing one, persuading people of your value is going to be your key to success during this recession. Borg spoke to about how to persuade others without being pushy and about the dangers of steamrolling people into submission.

CIO: When trying to influence or persuade others, what’s the biggest mistake people make?

James Borg: One of the worst crimes is the lack of true or active listening. People only half-listen to other people who are speaking, and they don’t observe people that well. We have the capacity to think at four- or five times the rate of someone who’s speaking to us. Consequently, we listen badly because we’re formulating our responses while the other person is speaking, or we’re thinking about something else, like shopping. Because we don’t listen, we fail to pick up clues that indicate what the other person is thinking.

Observing body language is the closest we can come to mind-reading. If you make a statement, and that statement produces a grimace on the face of the other person, their body is telling you that something you said doesn’t gel with them. It’s a clue for you to change your tact or to inquire what it is that’s bothering that person.

Some individuals lack the very people skills that you say are crucial to persuading others, yet they’re able to sway their co-workers because they always have a response to a point or counterpoint. They seem to exhaust others into submission. Is there anything wrong with this method of persuasion? After all, it accomplishes the persuader’s goals.

Beating someone into submission is not good. That’s not what true persuasion is about. The model persuasive person doesn’t leave you in that [exhausted] state.

The point of effective persuasion is that the relationship between two people hasn’t suffered after someone has changed another person’s belief or behavior. In the type of persuasion you’re describing, what usually suffers is the relationship.

Are there certain personality types that are better at persuasion than others?

Extroverted people tend to be more persuasive than people who are prone to introversion. Extroverts are often in jobs, such as sales or advertising, where they have to persuade people to buy a product or take some kind of action. People who are prone to introspection will take jobs that are less people-focused and more facts and figures focused, so they have less experience with people than extroverts. Consequently, they don’t develop the people skills that extroverts develop.

This isn’t to say that introverts aren’t good persuaders. They’re good persuaders when they’re dealing with their own type. Because introverts tend to conduct their interactions in a much slower way than extroverts, who tend to speak louder and faster, they would find it difficult to persuade extroverts. The same goes for extroverts trying to persuade introverts. When you look at workplace disputes, they’re typically personality clashes between introverts and extroverts.

Some people don’t like the idea of having to persuade or influence others. It strikes them as unseemly or manipulative. What’s the difference between persuasion and manipulation?

Persuasion is really about changing someone’s perception. You’re trying to alter their beliefs and behavior. Persuasion is really about moving someone from point A to point B.

Manipulation implies coercion. When we’re talking about persuasion, there’s more of a win-win: both parties are happy. Manipulation implies that only one party is satisfied.

So it’s the approach that’s different?

Manipulation is often synonymous with some kind of threat: If you don’t do this, this will happen. Persuasion is more a meeting of the minds: You’re getting someone to come around to your point of view. No one gets hurt. You changed a person’s perception, but not by coercion or threat.