What if women only needed to master the art of persuasion to be able to compete equally with men professionally?

Radical idea, I know. I’m not suggesting that this is the case but I love this as a thought experiment.

I wonder how much farther we could go if we embraced this idea of persuasion and set it as a top skill to hone.

If more women were able to wield this tool in the professional setting, how much farther could we go?  

In reading a recent article in the Harvard Business Journal, it was reinforced that persuasion, or selling your ideas, is a much needed skill that women need to be great at. I’ve written before about how important this skill is – although I called it sales before.

The term persuasion, much like sales or manipulation, can have a negative connotation in the workplace. It falls into the list of terms that women are either underestimated for or are considered problematic for women.But I believe all women need this powerful skill to move the ball forward.

Why is the art of persuasion so important? 

According to the HBJ article, some economists believe that persuasion is responsible for generating one-quarter or more of America’s total national income. Persuasion gives you the power to:

  • Get a promotion or a raise
  • Convince a prospect to become a client
  • Expand a client to do more
  • Motivate your employees to action
  • Negotiate to lead on a new project
  • Advocate for additional responsibilities
  • Convince investors to invest in your company
  • Encourage volunteers to give time or treasure to your non-profit

Persuasion maybe one of the most important skills for a woman to hone in a professional setting. Persuasion is the skill that can push you, your ideas, or your career forward. Lake of persuasion can be one more thing that keeps you rising to the top.

What is the formula for being persuasive? 

If you aren’t persuasive already, how do you get there? Or how do you improve? Great news – persuasion is a skill you can learn and refine.

The HBJ article breaks down the formula by pulling 5 rhetorical devices from Aristotle – that still remain relevant today:

  1. Ethos or Character

    Ethos represents the part of a speech or presentation when your audience gains some insight into your credibility.

    Credibility matters as a foundation of persuasion. For example, when pitching to a prospect, you need to be able to show that you’re the expert who can help them achieve their goals. Your credibility is built by explaining that you’ve seen their problem before and you have a solution. Regardless of the situation, you need to be able to establish that you are credible in making an argument or pushing forth an idea.

  2. Logos or “Reasons”

    Using data, evidence, and facts you are forming a rational argument as to why your audience should care about your argument or idea.

    If your audience doesn’t care, you aren’t getting anywhere – no matter how good your evidence or data is. It is up to you to draw the connections for them. You need to tell them what this means for their business. Is your idea saving the department money? Is this evidence showing a trend that will impact employment for your client? Will you be able to reduce risk by taking on new responsibilities? The evidence, facts and data are all important to have but it is your job to make those pieces mean something to your audience.

  3. Pathos or “Emotion”

    People are moved to action by how a speaker makes them feel.

    Opening up and being vulnerable can be scary but it’s often the quickest way to create the connection that compels action. Brené Brown, in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection states:

    Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.

    And in her book, Daring Greatly,

    Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. The power that connection holds in our lives was confirmed when the main concern about connection emerged as the fear of disconnection; the fear that something we have done or failed to do, something about who we are or where we come from, has made us unlovable and unworthy of connection.

    Connection creates emotion and that emotion is persuasive to action.

  4. Metaphor

    When you use a metaphor or analogy to compare a new idea to something that is familiar to your audience, it clarifies your idea by turning the abstract into something concrete.

    Metaphors and story telling are powerful tools. Stories make ideas stick. They persuade us. Motivate us. Demonstrate to us. You’ve heard ‘don’t tell me, show me’? That’s precisely what stories do, they show us. They allow us to break down complicated concepts into understandable snippets that are easy to remember and share.

  5. Brevity

    There are fairly universal limits to the amount of information which any human can absorb and retain, so start with your strongest point.

    We’ve talked a little bit before about the power of three here . The human brain can retain only so much information. Three points is the best number for retention and believably. It’s important to start with your strongest point. Then work your way down through the next two points. Keep it short and easy to digest or your audience won’t remember the points once they’ve walked out of the meeting.

Persuasion (or as I like to say sales) is an invaluable skill set. It’s learn-able. It’s practice-able. It’s applicable in your profession, despite what your profession is. It might be the most valuable skill for a woman to hone in today’s professional setting.

How well do you think you persuade?



Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash