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12 Apr '12

Persuasion or pushing: Know the difference

Have you ever met someone whose persuasive gifts left you feeling deflated, disempowered, demeaned or coerced after a conversation where they were trying to convince you to agree with them or a course of action they wanted to take? Consider this: that feeling is not simply the feeling of being outgunned by a persuasive leader. Rather, they crossed a line from persuasion to pushing you into submission. That is why you left the conversation feeling demeaned or manipulated.

In my younger years, I could be guilty of this at times, having been a debater in High School who did quite well in that arena. It worked not so well in my marriage and with others however!

The art of persuasion is an important one for a leader, especially those who choose to lead out of influence rather than from positional power. Persuasion, however, should never be manipulative. It is the ability to move people's thinking their way by making a strong and reasoned case for what they suggesting. It never seeks to force the other party to see things their way.

Persuasion crosses a line from healthy to pushy when the force of the argument starts to feel manipulative and coercing to the other party. Now it is not persuasion by reasoned thinking but by force of personality. And when we feel violated by a leader in a conversation it is usually because they have crossed that line and we don't feel we have a way to maneuver within the conversation.. Healthy leaders never try to force others to agree.

What can one do when confronted with a force of personality that starts to feel manipulative or coercive? If you are on the receiving end consider these kinds of approaches.

"Jim, I am feeling like the only OK response is to agree with you. Do I have the option of disagreeing on this matter?"

"Susan, I am feeling like you are pushing very hard for me to agree with you. Is there a reason you feel so strongly on this?"

"John, it feels like you have put me in a corner where I must agree with you. I am not on the same page on this issue so can you give me some space to make an independent decision?"

"Bill I am feeling pressured by you on this and it does not feel good."

By asking the questions or making the statements, the goal is to help the other party understand how you are feeling about the conversation and bring down the level of pressure. You may also discover the reasons that the other party feels so strongly on the issue. Either way, it usually reopens the conversation on a different tenor which is a good thing.