April 2017 | 

Getting to Yes: Two Key Lessons for Being a Better Influencer

Getting to Yes

Before he headed to Wharton, Jonathan Dilley took three assessments that would help identify his preferred persuasion styles. On one assessment, Dilley scored high on relationships and politics — two of the six “channels of influence” inside organizations. With ten years’ experience working on Capitol Hill, that wasn’t surprising. “I knew those were strengths,” he says, “but what I didn’t know was that there are four other channels that I could tap in to.”

Unlike many approaches to Influence, Wharton’s Strategic Persuasion Workshop: The Art and Science of Selling Ideas helps executives like Dilley not only to figure out what comes naturally, but also what requires the most effort, and what can be improved most readily. It’s not a one-size-fits-all method. This focus on multiple ways of “getting to yes” means participants develop more flexible techniques for bargaining and persuasion.

The senior VP and chief talent officer of the non-profit Project Lead The Way says he is now more self-aware about how he handles communications and challenging conversations with both internal team members and external audiences, and can make adjustments more easily. “But just as important,” he says, “is being able to understand from mannerisms and language how other people come to the conversation. You are only half of the equation, and if you want to persuade someone, you have to think about what is driving the other half.”

Academic director of the program G. Richard Shell says that is one of the most important lessons in the program. “To be a more effective influencer, you have to realize that you are just one point of view. The other person is very likely different than you expect. We’re hard-wired to make assumptions — they’re efficient, they give us confidence, and they help us to proceed rapidly to action. But if you’re trying to persuade someone, you have to slow down and investigate instead of making assumptions about others’ worldviews and perceptions. It’s about them, not you.”

The Wharton professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics and Management says the second lesson is about letting go of our need for closure. “We all want a beginning, a middle, and an end. But when it comes to influence and persuasion, we are never done. Those who do it well have patience and resilience, knowing that whatever closure they might experience is temporary. They’re also more persistent and less exhausted — which makes them more effective. Like giving up assumptions, it’s not easy to accept that persuasion is never over. But once you do, your outcomes will improve.”

Dilley agrees that taking both lessons to heart isn’t easy. “Since I attended the program, I view every conversation as an opportunity to grow. You have to be aware enough to learn from failure, and accept that you are in a constant state of learning. I have certainly made strides — I can read situations better, and adjust the way I approach them. But each situation is unique. You have to be self-aware enough to make adjustments in the moment, not just to meet your needs and goals but also to meet the other person’s.”