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"The most important persuasion tool you have in your entire arsenal is integrity." Zig Ziglar

Covert ops. Covert missions. Covert meetings.

Forget the connotation; the very definition of "covert" is dark, hidden, clandestine. At first blush, then, it seems as if a book entitled Covert Persuasion: Psychological Tactics and Tricks to Win the Game, would be a consummate manual to tricking people. To manipulating them. To getting what you want - and then sneaking away under the cover of darkness. It's not. Authors Kevin Hogan and James Speakman write a guide to persuasion that keeps integrity top of mind - and results within reach.

What's So Covert About Persuasion?

People (even you!) make choices based on emotion, most often on a subconscious level, and then justify or rationalize them with logic. Because of the subliminal nature of decisions, Hogan and Speakman posit that it's possible to direct behavior - to persuade - on just such a "subterranean" level.

"Covert persuasion," they write, "is, in part, about creating change in the mind of your clients or customers without them necessarily being aware of the changes that are occurring."

Covert Ethics

Don't confuse subterranean with subterfuge: "Our economy (and our family and our businesses) function because people are being persuaded to buy, try, vote, make their bed, shut the door, and contribute."

Persuasion is a necessary function - and an invaluable skill. Just as with beauty, ethics are in the eye of the beholder. When you use Hogan and Speakman's persuasion techniques with honesty and integrity, you "advance everyone's position."

This is a stance with which Jay A. Conger, Chairman of the Kravis Leadership Institute, concurs. In The Necessary Art of Persuasion (Harvard Business Review Classics), Dr. Conger writes, "Effective persuasion becomes a negotiating and learning process through which a persuader leads colleagues [or prospects, investors, stakeholders, etc.] to a problem's shared solution."

8 Steps To Use Covert Persuasion and Achieve Your Outcome

How do you arrive at this "shared solution"? Hogan and Speakman recommend eight steps, which will help you lead people in the direction you want, and need, them to go:

  1. Identify a targeted problem/situation. Think from the perspective of your target: what are they worried about? What do they not want to experience anymore? High costs? Ineffective marketing? Turnover? Churn? How will your product/service solve this need?

  2. Highlight the "pain" that will occur if this problem/situation continues without remedy. Hogan and Speakman recommend hitting "the pain button first." What will happen if they fail to take action? Create urgency, or at least the sense that negative consequences are likely, if not inevitable, if they do nothing.

  3. Ask customers/stakeholders to identify a preferred outcome. Ask: what would you rather have happen? What do you consider an ideal outcome? It is essential that they choose this - not you - so they buy in.

  4. Ask them to envision the new outcome. You can ask guiding questions, such as: what would this new outcome mean for you? Your company? This creates a new thought pathway, which can lead them to your solution.

  5. Confirm that they want the new outcome. Or are they telling you what they think you want to hear? Find out now so you can be sure they will take the necessary next steps towards your product/service. As an ethical persuader, you have to ensure people are honest about what would satisfy them, so you can deliver.

  6. Ask yourself if the new outcome is good for your customer. Whether you're talking to a potential customer, investor, or employee, fit is all-important. You have to make sure that your solution truly benefits them. Don't look for the short-term win, but rather the long-term gains.

  7. Don't judge. While intuition and "thinking without thinking" are critical business tools, it pays to reserve judgment with customers/clients. Resist the urge to judge their responses; instead, take time to understand and relate to them so you can discern their points of view, perspectives, and interests more clearly. You can avoid snap judgements and move people towards your solution.

  8. Don't tell targets they are wrong. You've worked with customers long enough to know that they're not always right - but they're never wrong! At least, you cannot verbalize it in such a way. "You're wrong" produces instant feelings of defensiveness, of anger.

If, for instance, you say, "You know, you really made a mistake going with Competitor X last year." This makes targets dig in and defend their decision. Did they make a mistake? Maybe so. But you don't want them to question the decision to go with you, which is where their minds will inevitably go next.

Achieving a "Mind Meld"

All of these steps lead to what Hogan and Speakman call a "mind meld." This deep understanding of what drives and motivates the other party helps you "position your thoughts and requests in such a way that they are easily and quickly accepted by other persons with little or no questioning." In other words, you'll reach them on a subconscious level, and make "yes" a seamless part of the conversation.

As you can see, despite the name, these "covert" persuasion steps are entirely above board. They do not entail trickery or deceit, but rather encourage a deeper understanding of the target. And this is powerful enough to help you "win the game."

These eight steps just scratch the surface of Hogan and Speakman's covert persuasion techniques. In the next article, we'll dig into specific tactics you can use to move people closer to the solution that you (and only you) can provide.


Larry Hart

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