By Ian Newall — Business Manager, Open Courses, Huthwaite

Persuasion is the process of getting others to do what we want them to do, or to accept our point of view. So, if you want to persuade someone you are negotiating with, logic will do the trick, right?

Wrong! Logic will not persuade unless the other side subscribes to exactly the same logic that you do. And will the other side subscribe to your logic? If you are a seller you can think of plenty of reasons why the customer should pay a fair price for your solution. After all, it’s the best there is, it will solve the customer’s problems and deliver excellent value. On the other hand, the buyer can think of as many reasons to pay a lot less for your product, including competitive offerings and the option of doing nothing.

The negotiator trying to use logic will frequently find that the other side doesn’t subscribe to the same logic. In the resulting frustration the negotiator piles on more reasons – reasons which may seem perfectly logical, though not to the other side. Huthwaite research into what skilled negotiators do differently showed that skilled negotiators avoid what is termed ‘argument dilution’.

Argument dilution is the process of building up as many reasons as possible to support an argument. In the West our culture and education supports this point of view. We use expressions like ‘the weight of argument‘ or ‘tipping the argument in our favour’ as though persuading someone is like tipping a scale or balance. In practice this seldom happens. We tend to give our strongest reason first, and then add progressively weaker and weaker reasons. The problem with this is that the weakest reason is the one that the other person remembers, after all, it’s the last one that they hear, and they will use that weak reason to undermine your argument. For example, an account manager approaches the Sales Director to negotiate budget for a new laptop.

Account Manager: “I need a new laptop because my current laptop is five years old and I’m worried that it will break down before the end of the budget year. And, it’s starting to look old fashioned — I’m sure my clients are wondering why someone who works for a high tech company is using such old equipment. And, it only has one USB socket…”
Sales Director: “You seem to have managed fine until now with only one USB socket. I’m sure you’ll get by for another year.”

Oh dear! Skilled negotiators know that it is more effective to limit their arsenal to one or two powerful reasons and stick with those. They know that thinking of persuasion as ‘tipping the balance’ may be useful in a formal debate or to a lawyer preparing heads of arguments but it wont help in negotiation.

Huthwaite International


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