The Art of Persuasion: Use Emotional Intelligence to Get Your Ideas Across

By Michelle Mudge-Riley, DO, MHA
November 15, 2017

A lot of people seem interested in finding a “secret sauce” for sparking engagement and convincing others to change behaviors.

Are you good at getting people to listen to you and pay attention to your ideas? How do you do it? It’s not easy in a world where almost everyone has 1,000 things vying for their attention daily.

michelle mudge-riley

Michelle Mudge-Riley

Persuasion is relevant for almost anyone in any industry. Physicians try to convince patients to stop smoking or to start exercising. Human resource executives try to convince employees to stay engaged and productive in their jobs. Chief medical information officers try to convince physicians and other providers to embrace and use technology.

Are incentives the answer? Daniel Pink, author of Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, has written extensively on the subject of motivation and found that financial and other incentives can reduce intrinsic motivation and result in an overall negative impact on performance. Dan Ariely, a researcher at Duke University, found incentives give people clear direction for behavior but can be distracting, create stress and ultimately reduce productivity and performance.

Adam Grant takes a different approach. A young professor at Wharton, he believes in pro-social motivation, or that the desire to help others drives people, independent of easily foreseeable payback. In one of his famous studies on hand hygiene, doctors and nurses used 45 percent more soap or hand sanitizer after a sign was put up at a hand washing station reminding doctors and nurses that, “Hand hygiene prevents patients from catching diseases” versus one that said, “Hand hygiene prevents you from catching diseases.”

These are two strikingly different tactics, but they both aim to accomplish the same goals. Overall, both have merit and work. Neither is a panacea.

For the past decade, I’ve worked with physicians as a career coach and as an engagement expert and consultant for physician organizations and other groups. Working with individuals or groups, here’s what I’ve seen work to accomplish the change necessary for success. Interestingly, over the years I’ve discovered it’s independent of gender, group size, location, individual or group background, or personal circumstances.

It helps to have some gray hair or to team up with someone who does. In fields where “older is wiser,” young people aren’t always taken as seriously. I look young and always have. Part of my success in consulting has been to work together with people who have some gray or white hair. It also helps that these people are usually smarter than I am.

If you want Gary to listen to you, listen to Gary. A client once provided me with some feedback about our work together and basically told me it “was falling short.” I could have ignored the comment. I could have gotten upset. After all, almost all my feedback is very good or exceptional. Instead, I listened to her and asked probing questions of “why” as I tried to figure out the gap. That client turned into one of my best referral sources and told many people how I was “the best in the industry” and about all the good work I had done to help her. Things might have turned out much differently had I gotten angry and lashed out at her with defensiveness when she first came to me as a frustrated client.

Have a genuine desire to help the other person and the situation. Keith Ferazzi and Dale Carnegie figured it out and then communicated it to the world in their books, Never Eat Alone and How to Win Friends & Influence People, respectively. Authenticity and a true desire to help the other person achieve personal goals will validate this person by making what’s important to him important to you. It’s amazing to see how doing this will naturally motivate him to help you. Keep in mind not to assume you know the other person’s aspirations – ask.

Know yourself and know your facts. You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room or have it all together. But you do need to be confident in your ability to contribute and you need to know as much as you can about the situation. No one will take you seriously if you don’t sound like you know what you’re talking about because you don’t understand or know all the facts. Ask questions. Lots of them.

Find common ground. If you can make an effort to really understand where the other person is coming from, you can usually find one or two ways in which you are similar or have a common interest. Find those places and expand on them. Once the two of you realize you’re not on opposite sides, it helps. It’s easier to listen to a friend than to an enemy or a stranger.

I wish there was a “secret sauce” to engagement and persuasion because it would make things much easier for all of us. But I’ve realized that no two situations are the same and no one approaches things in exactly the same way.

My team and I have found that using these tactics in varying degrees, depending on the circumstance, can help you in getting your ideas across and implemented.

Michelle Mudge-Riley, DO, MHA, is the founder of Physicians Helping Physicians and DocRD.

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