Situational Persuasion Techniques to Add to Your People Management Arsenal

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The Pareto principle tells us that doing a few things well can bring success in the bulk of your results. But in leadership terms, what if the few exceptions could be critical people management situations gone wrong, leading to unexpected misfortune?

Your company handbook probably covers what to do when the code of conduct is violated. You may even have a document specifying preferred process servers if legal action needs to be taken against employees. Yet you could forestall plenty of trouble by defusing the initial situations with certain techniques.

Principles of persuasion

First, a disclaimer: your overall ability to persuade others still benefits from laying the groundwork and developing strong relationships. There are principles of influence and persuasion, such as reciprocity, consistency, and authority. Anyone can learn them and apply them ethically for better long-term results. The following techniques are only intended for short-term, situational use.


A half-capacity glass of water can be viewed as half-full or half-empty, depending on the viewer’s mindset. Framing is the art of putting a spin on things so that another person tends to share your point of view.

It’s a tactic frequently used by marketers, who’ve identified three components. First, placement, or getting the timing right for the person you’re engaging with. Second, you construct an approach that’s more likely to get the response you want, often centering on the positives of your perspective. Finally, use the appropriate words based on your observation and knowledge of that person.

Because framing is so commonplace, we don’t view it as unethical. Skilled debaters, opinion columnists, and politicians pattern their speeches on this tactic. Maybe you follow a few influencers and bloggers who do the same. That familiarity should make it easy to put this into practice with your employees.


In behavioral economics, the theory of rational choice holds that people, given agency, will choose to act in a manner that best serves their self-interest. While it remains an influential ideology, rational choice has been heavily criticized. One reason is that people aren’t rational agents: irrationality drives the majority of our decision-making.

In select moments, you can step in and intervene to change that. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes, and try to analyze your own argument based on their self-interest. What’s in it for them? If you can identify that and make it the selling point of your position, you’ll be more likely to win them over.

The door

business deal

Two common negotiation tactics use the door metaphor but work on opposite sides of it. The first one is known as the ‘foot in the door’ technique. You make a small request that the other person is likely to agree with, thereby getting your foot in the door. Subsequently, they’ll find a bigger request harder to turn down.

The second tactic is the ‘door in the face’ technique. You start with a request you can expect the other person to refuse. Having already turned you down, people will feel that they shouldn’t be saying no all the time and will be more amenable to a reasonable request along the same lines.


A favorite among salespeople, and maybe not viewed as ethical by some, low-balling refers to offering a bargain you don’t intend to keep. Once the other person has agreed, you let that commitment simmer and settle down in their minds.

Then you go back to them and cite unfortunate circumstances that have forced you to retract the bargain, instead of giving them what you’d always intended to offer. Low-balling works on the principle of commitment. People tend to justify their decisions, and once they’ve committed, it’s harder to withdraw, even if the terms have changed.

The four walls

This one’s unexpectedly simple, and again takes advantage of the human desire to commit and be consistent. Think about feeling along the four walls of a house to find the door. By analogy, your goal is to probe the other person with neutral questions leading to a ‘yes’ response, until you find an opening.

There may not be exactly four questions, but the point is, you’re conditioning them to repeatedly respond with affirmative statements. At the same time, you’re building up to your action thrust by moving from the general to the specific. Research has shown that using the four walls technique works, and by the time you make an actual request, they’re more likely to say yes.

Again, none of these persuasion techniques is a substitute for building actual leadership and influence over time. But they can certainly prove useful in a pinch when you really need to get one of your people to agree or comply with what you want.

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