Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Persuading others (to do what you want).

In a world of co-creating and collaborating, the ability to persuade others to your view point is a really valuable skill.

Would you be surprised if I told you that forcefully arguing your point of view is the least effective way of persuasion? Similarly, seeing any form of compromise as surrender or assuming you’ve got one shot at changing another’s mind are both flawed strategies.

If you really want to persuade others you don’t need to be sneaky, you need to be strategic…


Persuasion is a negotiation and learning process where the persuader leads others to a shared solution. There are four essential elements.


We all want credibility. Credibility means others trust your perspective and your opinions. Establishing credibility is not to be underestimated: Harvard Business Review’s anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that most of us over estimate their own credibility – constantly.

There are two ways to establish credibility: expertise and relationships.

People are commonly considered to have a high level of expertise if they have a history of sound judgement, or prove they are knowledgeable and well informed.

Designers can demonstrate expertise through written case studies on their website, or by publishing articles/white papers on LinkedIn, in tradepress and industry journals. Alternatively, acknowledge a lack of expertise by hiring a recognised expert, or pursuing professional development.

Designers with high credibility have usually demonstrated they can be trusted to listen, have strong emotional character and intention. They are known to be honest, steady and reliable with a robust relationship network. It doesn’t mean everyone has to agree with everything they have ever said and done. It’s because relationships are robust they are more likely to be given the benefit of the doubt.

Good relationships are built over time – it’s an area where runs on the boards are important.

Mature design businesses can highlight a history of strong relationships on their website and in submissions. Cite examples that demonstrate your business is trustworthy and fair. Younger design businesses can start building relationships by sharing credit for good ideas and showing a generosity of spirit. Being helpful and supportive is a firm base to build strong relationships.

Framing the argument

The aim of framing an argument is to find common ground and advantages to your view point. To do that you need a solid understanding of who you are trying to persuade.

This means designers need to work hard to understand a colleague’s needs, or a client’s product, service, and market. Research should include active listening via informal and formal conversations and meetings; testing your thoughts with others, then refining and retesting before you start to persuade.

Providing evidence

Providing evidence doesn’t just mean presenting research results in charts and spreadsheets. Telling the story behind the numbers will strengthen an argument.

Here’s where a designer’s skill in storytelling is invaluable. We can supplement data with stories, metaphors and analogies to make the evidence emotionally engaging. And we can cite case studies where our argument has a proven positive outcome. It helps move the research from abstract to reality.

Connecting emotionally

This element centres on having empathy with the person you are trying to persuade – the ability to accurately sense and respond to another’s emotional state. Sometimes that might mean suppressing your emotions or adversely, intensifying them. It may also include researching how others have interpreted past events to have an understanding of how they might interpret your argument

It’s a fine line for designers. We need to be emotionally connected to the position we are championing but not so emotional that it looks as if the argument doesn’t have basis. Much like we don’t like clients making subjective decisions – ‘I like red’ – it’s important designers advocate on a subjective rather than objective basis.

The art of persuasion.

Like understanding how we all make decisions differently, understanding the art of persuasion will help designers work collaboratively, and more for more effective presentations.

Successful persuasion can pull a team together, propel ideas forward and propel change. It is not about convincing and selling, it’s about learning and negotiating. It may not come naturally to everyone, and that’s OK, but it’s a skill worth learning and practicing.

Take away.

A successful persuader is an asset to any design business.

What do you think? Want to share your point of view? I’m all ears. Please feel free to email me.

Carol Mackay

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Carol’s design expertise is in making the complex simple. Her skill is in packaging complicated content into bite-sized chunks of information to be easily understood and digested. 2018 is a big year for Carol. Thirty-three years after founding Mackay Branson design, she transitioned from client-focused projects to use her skills with the Design Business Council, and The Design Business School.

Carol has just written a new program for the The Design Business School. The Design Studio Management Program is aimed at designers, design graduates and existing design studio managers to help them develop skills to fast track their career path. Contact Carol for more information.

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