Do You Need to Change the Way You Persuade?

Understanding your boss’s decision-making preferences is key to persuasion – and to change management.

Your business case was impeccable. You did your research. You crunched your numbers. You structured your argument brilliantly. But your boss said no. Why?

You may have ignored your boss’s decision-making style.

At a basic level, a leader’s job is to make decisions. “At any moment in any day, most executives are engaged in some aspect of decision making: exchanging information, reviewing data, coming up with ideas, evaluating alternatives, implementing directives, following up,” write Kenneth Brousseau, Michael Driver, Gary Hourihan and Rikard Larsson.

Taking into account your boss’s decision-making style is helpful in any new initiative, however say, for example, your goal is to implement a new software system. You need CIO and CFO approval. Depending on each leader’s preferences, you may present your case in different ways, so they can  evaluate and eventually come to a favorable decision. Understanding these different decision-making styles—directive, analytical, conceptual and behavioral—is key to the success of your initiative.

Directive Decision-Makers

For directive decision-makers, structure is important. They make decisions quickly and expect immediate results. When making a decision, they rely on their own knowledge, experience and judgment. However, because they often act before they have all the facts, they may fail to consider all the options. When evaluating a new technology, they might focus on the short-term—the initial cost, disruption of work, the time it will take to train people on the system—rather than the long-term benefits.

If you are persuading a directive decision-maker:

  • Point out how the software would affect the decision-maker’s everyday life or have a positive impact on a process with which the decision-maker is familiar.
  • Emphasize the immediate benefits of implementing the system.
  • Put a time frame on the decision. If there’s a reason to act quickly, such as an upcoming event that will require streamlined information sharing or automated processes in order to run smoothly, be sure to emphasize it.

Analytical Decision-Makers

Analytic decision-makers enjoy solving puzzles and problems. They’re the people who can look at large amounts of data and come up with an innovative solution. However, they can be controlling, and their insistence on evaluating data means they arrive at decisions slowly.

Analytical decision-makers rely on direct observations, figures and data to come to a decision. They may request security reports, relevant certifications or other documentation from the technology vendor. If you are persuading an analytical decision-maker:

  • Have your numbers in order (e.g., projected ROI on the new software, how much time and cost savings you project one year from implementation, etc.), and double-check them before you hand them over.
  • Make sure you have raw data and research ready to hand over—and you give them plenty of time to sort through it.
  • Leave plenty of time to make a decision, so they don’t feel pressured or rushed.

Conceptual Decision-Makers

For conceptual decision-makers, thinking outside the box is important. They think far into the future and consider the long-term ramifications of their decisions. They’re creative, but they can sometimes take too many risks.

Conceptual decision-makers love brainstorming ideas, and are less concerned with hard data. If you present your new system to a conceptual decision maker:

  • Leave plenty time to discuss vision and strategy for the new technology.
  • Present all the research you’ve conducted and be prepared to brainstorm alternatives together.
  • Spend less time on data, and more time on the potential use cases and long-term ramifications of the system.

Behavioral Decision-Makers

Blessed are the peacemakers—and blessed are behavioral decision-makers, who seek harmony in decision-making. If your boss prioritizes making sure all departments agree on the software before moving forward, you’re likely working with a behavioral decision-maker.

Behavioral decision-makers work well in groups, but along with that comes a desire to avoid conflict—even when it’s necessary. If you are persuading a behavioral decision-maker:

  • Point out consensus for the software you want to implement. If you’ve gathered wide support for your initiative from front-line employees or managers, now’s the time to bring it up.
  • Include the ways that your initiative will benefit other departments.
  • Have your project champion (especially if it’s someone who your boss respects) reach out to your boss to discuss the benefits of the initiative.

The Fifth Element: Using Cognitive Bias to Your Advantage

Besides working with decision-makers’ different decision-making styles, it’s also important to understand the concept of cognitive bias—and how you can use it to your advantage. Cognitive biases are those thought patterns that cause us to make questionable decisions and reach erroneous conclusions. And, despite what many think, they aren’t due to a lapse in logic.

“A logical fallacy is an error in logical argumentation (e.g., ad hominem attacks, slippery slopes, circular arguments, appeal to force, etc.),” writes George Dvorsky at io9. “A cognitive bias, on the other hand, is a genuine deficiency or limitation in our thinking — a flaw in judgment that arises from errors of memory, social attribution, and miscalculations (such as statistical errors or a false sense of probability).”

With over 50 recognized cognitive biases, there’s undoubtedly one you can use to your advantage when you’re trying to persuade a decision-maker to support your business case. For example:

  • Recency bias: When you’re putting together your business case presentation, try mentioning your most important point last.
  • IKEA effect: Schedule time with your boss, and ask for feedback and ideas to help build your case.
  • Framing effect: In your ROI comparison, include a comparatively expensive alternative so your own idea sounds more reasonable.

Understanding decision-making styles and cognitive biases isn’t all there is to it, but can be a boon to your efforts to drive change!

You may also like A Roadmap to Evidence-Based Decision Making, 5 Tips for Developing Indirect Influence and What is Your Leadership Style?

Melissa Henley is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She is Director of Customer Experience at Laserfiche, an enterprise software company that has served the public and private sectors for over 30 years. Customers are at the heart of all Melissa does, and her passion is around connecting people to content that can have a genuinely positive impact on their lives. Melissa brings over 20 years of marketing experience across multiple industries, including government, finance, and higher education. Read her posts here

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