The fine art of persuading and influencing others

Don’t let the sales and marketing folks get all the glory! Here are five things every CPA needs to know to wield unparalleled influence.

For over 80 years—ever since Dale Carnegie wrote his seminal tome, How to Win Friends and Influence People, in 1936—business leaders have been gobbling up books, magazine articles and advice columns on the fine art of persuasion. Often, the most voracious audience is sales and marketing folks—after all, they’re in the business of persuading—but the skill set is no less important for finance professionals, who have increasingly complex and strategic jobs. Simply put: There’s a lot of ‘splaining to do.

To that end, here are five things that we finance professionals need to know to be a more persuasive presence in our workplace, business community—and world.

  1. Know what’s important to those in positions of power.
    It goes without saying that powerful people have influence by default. If that’s you, congratulations. But even CFOs need to persuade someone—often a CEO or board of directors—on a course of action. To achieve that, you first need to understand what drives them. Is it respect? Status? Achievement? As leadership coach Anthony Bonnici said on a recent CPA Australia podcast, it’s often best to simply ask the question: “What is important to you?” The answer will highlight certain needs, of course—but it will also put your audience in a safe, more receptive place.
  2. Be an expert. Make sure people know you’re an expert. But don’t call yourself an expert.
    Expertise is one of those things that has the greatest impact on powerful people. If you’re an acknowledged guru on climate change science, for instance, the CEO of Royal Dutch Shell or Exxon Mobil likely will want to hear what you have to say. There’s no shortcut to expertise—just a lot of hard work, cultivating knowledge and developing professionally to get to a point of unparalleled depth in one key thing.
  3. Be consistently helpful.
    Part of having influence is building trust with those whom you hope to influence. The easiest way to build trust is providing evidence that you’ve done the hard work in the past—not just relying on your title or qualifications or credentials, but actual, relevant case studies. If I’m working with a CPA on a particularly tricky financial matter, I want to know what experience s/he has had with other clients in similar situations. And when you say you’re going to deliver something, make sure you do—to the letter, each time. As leadership coach and “trust expert” Vanessa Hall says, trusting someone is relying on them to deliver something specific.
  4. Show passion.
    Don’t underestimate the power of emotion. I know—it’s not really an accountant thing—but try it on for size! Illustrate examples with vivid anecdotes—make real, in visual terms, the “numbers problem” you’re trying to communicate, or financial action you’re hoping to see. Nick Morgan, in a 2015 Harvard Business Review story, put it succinctly: “When the other side has the power and you have the emotion, something closer to parity is possible.” People tend to trust those who care—who are authentically passionate—about what they’re communicating.
  5. Be open to being influenced in return. We laud leaders, and yet don’t really celebrate followers. But, to wield the greatest influence, you have to allow the power—the influence—to flow both ways. As organizational psychologist Roger Schwarz puts it: “We get much better results if we hear from and are influenced by those who are in different positions and have different perspectives, rather than relying only on the thoughts of those in power.” In self-help terms, harness the power of your vulnerability.

KEEP THE CONVERSATION GOING

Do you have any tips for persuading and influencing others? Post a comment below.

Disclaimer

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of CPA Canada.

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