I am frustrated and confused”, a client said to me recently.  “I continue to have excellent suggestions that will help build the business, but my ideas always seem to get tabled, and eventually lost.”  “Some decisions about projects (that have little data to support their likely success) often seem to win the attention, and get the endorsement, of the boss”, she said.   

Following additional discussion about the problem that this executive faced, I certainly felt sympathetic regarding her dilemma. However I began to detect a possible problem that could be rendering her ineffective. She appeared to be making the critical mistake of focusing too much on the content of her argument and not enough on how she delivered the message.    

Recent research conducted by Gary Williams and Robert Miller (of the San Diego customer research firm, Miller-Williams, Inc.), studied 1,684 executives decision-making processes.  The participants were from a variety of industries including automotive, retail, and high tech.  Their cluster analysis found that the executive’s behaviors fell into five well defined groupings.  These five groupings were categorized as, the Charismatics, the Thinkers, the Skeptics, the Followers, and the Controllers.  The style of decision making for each grouping required a unique approach in order to get their attention and increase the likely acceptance of anyone’s ideas, or projects. 

This appeared to be a major part of the problem for the frustrated executive client.  She was enthusiastic about our review of the characteristics that defined the decision–maker who was disregarding her logical, and well supported, proposals.  It did not take long before it became clear she had not tuned in to his default style of decision making.  This was the critical flaw, HOW she presented her ideas, NOT WHAT the content was regarding her well thought out projects (though this, understandably, is very important too).

The five styles of decision making (Harvard Business Review, May 2002) that have a profound effect on the ability to be persuasive are as follows.

These individuals can initially be exuberant about a new idea or proposal but will yield a final decision based on a balanced set of information.   This kind of decision maker accounts for 25% of all executives positioned to have decision power.  Their basic need is for presentations to jive with their past experience of requiring balanced information, not just emotions.

These individuals are the toughest to persuade.  They are impressed with arguments that are supported by data.  They are adverse to risk and are slow decision makers.  They account for 11% of all decision makers.  

Skeptics tend to be highly suspicious of every data point presented, especially any data point that challenges their worldview.  They tend to be aggressive.  Their style is combative.  They are take charge people.  They account for 19% of the decision makers. 

These are the executives that make decisions based on how they have made decisions in the past, or how other trusted executives have made decisions.  They are risk-adverse.  They account for 36% of the decision making executives.

Controllers abhor uncertainty.  They focus on the pure facts, no ambiguity.  They are very insecure.  They account for 9% of the persons with decision making power. 

Certainly this does not characterize all the decision makers in every industry. However, it does represent many of the styles that may challenge you when you attempt to persuade the leaders, in your organization, of the value of your proposals.  It is not only the content of the proposal that persuades decision makers, it is also how you present your information.  Clearly, the benefit of understanding the principles of effective persuasion is critical to the success of any enthusiastic executive hoping to have a significant influence in the decision process in their business operation.

Please remember to take into consideration the factors that increase or decrease you personal effectiveness.  When you do, you will enjoy the power of persuasive influence, and significantly improve your cognitive processing, when preparing your reports and proposals.

How persuasive do you want to be?
Credit given to Williams, Miller and Harvard Business Review.