Professional Persuasion


Communicating information to others has always been challenging to me. I’m pretty decent at understanding, but rubbish at making others understand. That lack of skill compounds the natural difficulty of persuading others to adopt your viewpoint, making me horrible at convincing anyone of anything. Throw in the minefield of the political landscape of most corporations, and I am truly in trouble.

I was lucky to receive some impromptu mentoring on this topic by a senior member of my company. He told me something I have long known, but rarely practiced: the best way to convince others to do what you want, is to make them think that it was their idea all along. In practical terms, this means I should bite my tongue, swallow my criticism, get off my “expertise” soapbox, and present my challenges as questions that will hopefully lead to the other party arriving at my own conclusion. His own experience proves to him the efficacy of this persuasion strategy, and I also acknowledge it.

But then we had a philosophical moment, discussing whether this strategy was merely pragmatic and effective, or manipulative and conniving. The phrase “shades of truth” came up, and while I tend toward a black-and-white worldview on most things, I couldn’t quite advocate for the moral virtue of persuasion of this kind without running into ethical issues. When I was younger, I viewed people as valuable only for the utility that they provided me. Only later did I come to believe that people have intrinsic value and despise my previous belief. So it will take some thinking for me to come to terms with that approach to persuasion and avoid mental dissonance.

Alternatively, I could not think about it. That’s how most people avoid mental dissonance. An unexamined ethical concern could possibly have zero impact on my psyche. Then again, I empathize with Socrates: “the unexamined life is not worth living.” I can’t help it.

In the meantime, while I resolve the moral dilemma, I’ll practice biting my tongue.