Recognizing the importance of persuasive skills, I was very intrigued when a speaker at a recent conference recommended the book 27 Powers of Persuasion by Chris St. Hilaire. I immediately read the book and several others on the psychology of persuasion and have since tried to apply the lessons I learned in my work. While the psychology of persuasion is universal—people use it to sell things, get their way at home, and in so many other ways—I have found that there are certain persuasive skills that are particularly applicable to the practice of UX design. While they may seem like common sense, if you take the time to review them, practice them, and remind yourself to use them, they’ll come more naturally in the heat of an argument or when you’re in an important meeting.
1. Be Likable
In the literature, this is a common theme: persuading others is much easier if they like you. If you can develop a personal connection with the folks on your team, they will be less defensive and more likely to work with you. How do you make yourself likable?
First, start with the basics of etiquette. Smile. Make eye contact and offer a firm handshake. If someone asks you how you are, answer, but make sure to ask about how he or she is doing, too. Complement people, thank them for taking time out of their day to meet with you, and find something you may share in common outside of work. These are little things, but if you remind yourself to do them, you will be in a better position to persuade people when you need to.
Second, find something that you like about the people you work with. Under the stress of deadlines and in a fast-paced work environment, it is easy to focus on annoying habits or personal styles that you dislike. But, if you focus on those things, it will affect your demeanor in a negative way. Find something positive about other people you work with and your interactions with them will organically become more positive—and you will be in a better position to persuade them.
I had this experience with a CEO I was working with on a project. The CEO was very direct, dismissed some of the finer details that we were considering on a project, and used obscure metaphors to try to make his points about design. When I was younger, I might have thought that CEO was crazy and didn’t know what he was talking about in relation to design. But, instead, I focused on the positive aspects of his behavior. I appreciated that he was trying to challenge us to think outside the box and innovate rather than getting caught up in the details. I chose to like that aspect of his approach and leveraged it to develop a successful, long-term business relationship with him.
Finally, don’t be afraid to be different. I used to believe in the old mantra that you should dress to match the people you’re trying to persuade. Lessons in the books on persuasion, though, suggested that if you present yourself as being the same as the people you’re trying to persuade, you’ll give them the impression that you’re not offering anything new. Be yourself, and you are likely to be more comfortable, more likable, and in a better position put others at ease.
2. Be the User Experience Geek
Another key aspect of successful persuasion cited in the literature is establishing your credibility. In the profession of user experience, this means you have to show people that you understand the science of human factors, cognitive psychology, and design. Having the ability to explain and rationalize design decisions helps establish your credibility and separates you from others who bring their own personal biases and opinions to an argument.
Language is important in this regard. You should be able to make reference to the actual design principles that are guiding your viewpoint. Refer to decision architecture and the power of social influence. Talk about specific research protocols such as the repertory grid, lotus blossom technique, or design studio rather than research, brainstorming, or workshops. Anything that has a principle associated with it is good—for example, Gestalt principles, the Scarcity Principle, or the Four Plus or Minus Two Principle. Developing a vocabulary around the foundations of our profession will position you as someone who knows what they are talking about.
That being said, your tone and delivery of these principles is critical. You don’t want to sound demeaning or confrontational. Many of the books on persuasion suggest that the best way to deliver this type of expertise is in a helpful, educational way. Position your message in a way that helps to educate a group so they can make good decisions—not to show yourself off as a know-it-all.