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Perspective and the power of persuasion


For those of us in the public relations business a core activity is to facilitate the process of stakeholder engagement.  We try and reach out to the people important to our organisations and create influence.  We are called upon to use our powers of persuasion, or help others use theirs, to maintain or change belief patterns, attitudes and sometimes behaviours.  We are often required to communicate change and that change will require the audience to move from one place to another. 

People are often resistant to change. Many times this is for reasons of self-interest, sometimes for emotional rather than logical reasons, sometimes simply because they may be comfortable with being uncomfortable – even if change raises the prospect of better circumstances.

Having a clear understanding of the key information around your own case and being able to communicate that to your audience with clarity, brevity and impact is vital.  But it is not enough.
 
As a part of facilitating change one of the central skills needed is the ability to see a range of perspectives.  As we seek to shape opinion, create influence and to change behaviours it is important to understand where our audience is placed at the start of that process.
 
It is not an easy task. Sometimes the strength of an argument is obvious – to you. There is a powerful justification to do things differently, to carry out an action, but the audience just don’t get it.  You cannot, although some still try, simply leap in and say to your audience, “My way is better.  You must change…. if you know what’s good for you.”
 
If we want to move an audience from their current position at point A to a new place at point B, we have to know where point A is and have an understanding of what the current position means to them. It isn’t as easy as identifying all the benefits of B, delivering that to the audience and then expecting the audience to move.
 
You cannot tell people to change and expect them to do it. 
 
One strategy I have often used within training around effective engagement is an exercise that I call “The Hills.” The exercise highlights the importance of perspective.  The Hills is about gaining an understanding of the various perspectives that people may hold and through that understanding be better placed to influence attitudes and behaviours.
 
The exercise is quite simple.  Through our life experiences we all build, layer upon layer, a personal view of the world, our personal perspective.  Life events shape that perspective and influence our views. We all sit at the top of our own personal hill, looking out at our view of the world.  The people we get on well with, generally sit at the top of adjacent hills, those people whose views we disagree with will sit on hills with a very different perspective. We all sit on top of different hills.
 
If you want to move people to a different perspective, to see things the way you would like them to see those things, then how do you achieve it?  
 
The first and vital step in the process is to come down from the top of your hill and go to the top of their hill.  By doing that you are able to see the world the way that they see it.  In turn that places you in a position where you can build an understanding of what is important to them and better understand why they hold that view.  In understanding what influences their current position, or thinking,attitudes and behaviours, you are in a position to engage with them and offer relevant information that might persuade them to move.
 
If you want someone to see the world your way, first you have to see it theirs.