Persuading Hard-to-Convince People

Persuasion Techniques
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A Kahnesky
Manager, Denmark

Persuading Hard-to-Convince People

Steadfastness, firmness and consistency are virtues held in high regard. However, some people tend to overestimate these values and take them to the very extremity. That brings in rigidity - in their behaviour, opinions, as well as their character. Most of us have dealt with a colleague or boss who was too arrogant to hear about new ideas and proposals, a narcissist who just can't take any criticism calmly, and a load of other stubborn people. Persuading such people is one Herculean task! Nevertheless, is there any way around their stubbornness, their rigidity, that can help us to convince such hard-to-convince people?

Persuading Hard-To-Convince People

Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist, draws light onto Steve Jobs (Apple Inc.), who was a brilliant visionary, but was also known as a head-strong man; his colleagues found him very hard to convince. However, the people who did manage to persuade Steve Jobs altered the course of history for Apple. For example, Steve Jobs was against launching a phone in the market, but an Apple employee persuaded him hard for Jobs to see the benefit behind launching an Apple phone (and the rest is history)!

According to Adam, there are four characteristics (barriers) of people which make them Hard-to-Convince (luckily, under certain circumstances, even these "difficult" people become easy to manage):
  1. Arrogance: Know-it-all people confidently display their knowledge and turn a deaf ear to their ignorance. Anyone pointing out to their ignorance bears their wrath.
    The solution is to let the Arrogant recognize the shortfalls in their understanding.
    For example, asking people to explain complex things in simple terms is a simple approach to revealing the depth of one's knowledge (and one's ignorance). On self-realization of the gaps in their understanding, arrogant people tend to be more receptive to other's views and opinions.
  2. Stubbornness: Stubborn people hold high the virtues of certainty and consistency. They tend to believe in internal control (i.e., their own will shapes the outcomes, not external factors such as luck). When presented with strong arguments, these people often tend to get defensive.
    The key to do away with defensiveness is to give the Stubborn the feeling of control.
    For example, stubborn bosses often dismiss ideas proposed by their subordinates. However, by asking questions like "Could we …?" or "What if we…?", we are soliciting their suggestions or insights on adding value to the idea. With a feeling that they control the idea and are contributing to it, stubborn bosses tend to be less defensive.
  3. Narcissism: Narcissists consider themselves special or superior over others. Praises and adorations from others are what drives them. However, they do not take criticisms about themselves positively. Criticisms tend to hurt their fragile egos. While narcissists may be poor in some areas, they might be better than others in some areas.
    Research says that Narcissists tend to display humility when criticized over something immediately after being praised for another attribute/quality. However, the criticism should not be followed by another praise – the narcissist would then ignore the criticism in the middle.
    For example, subordinates could praise their bosses for their good sense of humour before pointing out their poor communication skills.
  4. Disagreeableness: Disagreeable people tend to oppose conflicting ideas through verbal arguments strongly. They make others reevaluate their ideas/proposals while holding their ground firmly.
    People who stand up against Disagreeable people without backing out tend to claim victory against these difficult people.
    For example, research found that to nominate senior executives to the Board of other companies, CEOs are most likely to choose employees who were willing to fight for their ideas before giving in to better ideas. These were people who wouldn't just nod to their boss's every say and were ready to challenge the status quo.
Related Learning
How to Persuade Certain People (Charismatics, Thinkers, Skeptics, Followers, and Controllers)
While organizations need brilliant minds to charter the future path, they also need people who can steer back from any deviations. While this points to being flexible and receptive to ideas, it also refers to knowing how to persuade others towards one's ideas.

⇒ What have been your experiences of persuading some of these very "difficult" people? How have you dealt with them? Happy to learn more!
Grant A. (2021) "Persuading the Unpersuadable", Harvard Business Review
Elsbach, K. D. (2003) "How to Pitch a Brilliant Idea", Harvard Business Review


Gregory Johnson
Coach, United States

Persuading the Hard to Reach

This an excellent missive on a growing virus among people in positions of leadership. In my professi... Sign up


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Discussion Topics
How to Persuade Certain People (Charismatics, Thinkers, Skeptics, Followers, and Controllers)
🔥Cialdini's 6 Principles of Persuasion
People Must Persuade Themselves
👀Persuading Hard-to-Convince People
4 Essential Steps of Persuasion
Positive Effects of Humor in Persuasion
Persuasion Knowledge Theory
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