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Leadership Skill Set 5: Social Persuasion


Social persuasion is the final skill set needed to understand the science of emotional intelligence. The concept behind emotional intelligence is that everyone can learn its five skill sets. Some people have a greater need for them than others, but the point is to start the process of better understanding others by studying the disciplines and applying them to each of your relationships. Studies in the last three to five years validate the notion that your understanding of emotions can improve your ability to bridge relational gaps and ultimately improve personal and professional performance.

Developing social persuasion skills is no easy task. There is no step-by-step approach given all the unique people you face on a daily basis. You must learn how to read verbal and nonverbal cues and body language, and accurately interpret what others are thinking and feeling. In the safety world, most everything we do is related to a specific set of steps designed with worker safety in mind. When it comes to social persuasion, the goal is to leave each workplace interaction with workers thinking and motivated to do what’s right regardless of any distractions or hazards they encounter.

A private consultant who formerly worked as a DuPont executive recently reminded me about DuPont’s successful “felt leadership” philosophy and how successful the company has been in teaching people how to play well together. Felt leadership has been described as respect through action for the well-being of people. It aids in building trust and relationships among employees, customers, shareholders and communities. The ideas and tools found in the DuPont process are the science of social persuasion. It is each leader’s role to learn new skills when applying the science to each workplace interaction. The DuPont felt leadership framework goes as far as defining the behavior range needed to influence people, from inspiration to enforcement. As this framework relates to social persuasion, you must learn to read what is going on in your interaction at that moment and make leadership decisions that positively influence the people with whom you’re interacting.

Internal Teeter-Totter
The encouraging part of this long learning journey is that often the benefits are realized early; once others start to see you take interest in them in new ways, something changes in the relationship. Your dominant message is no longer reflective of a selfish “me-world” agenda; instead, the dominant message is selfless and focuses on what’s best for the group, incorporating a “we-world” attitude. Social persuasion has everything to do with your relationship awareness and your ability to positively persuade and manage your relationships.

In learning the skill of social persuasion, ask yourself these questions: Are you aware of how people feel after talking to you? Do you take note of what people are thinking once you are done talking? Do you even care what others think or feel after talking with you?

Your answer to these questions is critical in today’s marketplace. Your longevity as a supervisor or leader of enterprise hinges not only on your technical and compliance knowledge and skills, but also your ability to learn about, read and influence people.

Imagine that each person you encounter has an internal teeter-totter. Much like you, they are constantly trying to balance their family life, finances and career, avoiding the tilt of their internal teeter-totter. As a leader, you ultimately have two choices in terms of social persuasion. You can negatively influence others and keep the teeter-totter in tilt, which will damage relationships and undermine your team, or you can develop new people skills and work to keep the harmony, creating balance for yourself and also helping others find balance through your own examples, acts and deeds.

Mirroring Emotions
If you are constantly focused on the lack of something, the wrong, the problem, the violation, it’s possible you are leaving people in emotional states that hinder their ability to perform their jobs. In a root cause analysis, you would be the source of the problem because you fail to influence people in a positive manner.

Science now validates the idea that emotions are contagious. You have mirror neurons in your brain that serve one purpose – to mirror the emotions of the person you are talking to. This is why we walk away from some conversations thinking, “Yuck!” The emotional currents were negative and you caught the toxicity. Or, even worse, you were the one sending it out.

The person that is either the most dominant or the most expressive will always carry the emotional tempo. Understand that the emotional currents you send and receive are instant; they are uncontrollable and unconsciously out of your reach. We cannot control these emotions that come from different parts of the brain, but we can use skill development to become self-aware and to self-regulate in hopes of making better decisions about how to respond to different people and situations.

Empathy is another emotional tool critical to your ability to influence and persuade others. It was highlighted in “Leadership Skill Set 4: Social Awareness” (August 2013), but is so important when it comes to understanding others that it’s worthy of a refresher. Empathy is a prior condition to compassion – you have to understand what someone is feeling in order to have compassion for them. Some people lack empathy because they don’t understand their own emotions. The empathy spectrum ranges from total self-absorption, to not noticing, to beginning to tune in, to intellectually thinking and understanding, to compassion and understanding the other person’s needs. There are several steps along the way, which is why this is a lifelong journey.

If your experience with understanding emotions has been limited, a limited personal reference will limit your understanding of others. That is why the first three skill sets of emotional intelligence – self-awareness, self-regulation and self-motivation – have everything to do with you. It is only through understanding yourself that you can understand and lead others.

Social Persuasion Competencies
People who have mastered social persuasion have the following competencies. You can use these as personal goals to work toward in your efforts to become a better leader.

1. Influence
Definition: Wielding effective tactics for persuasion. People with this competence are skilled at persuasion; fine-tune presentations to appeal to the listener; use complex strategies such as indirect influence to build consensus and support; and orchestrate dramatic events to effectively make a point.

2. Communication
Definition: Sending clear and convincing messages. People with this competence give and take effectively, and take emotional cues into consideration when crafting their messages; deal with difficult issues in a straightforward manner; listen well, seek mutual understanding and welcome sharing of information; foster open communication; and stay receptive to both good and bad news.

3. Leadership
Definition: Inspiring and guiding groups and individuals. People with this competence articulate and arouse enthusiasm for a shared vision and mission; step forward to lead as needed, regardless of position; guide the performance of others while holding them accountable; and lead by example.

4. Change Catalyst
Definition: Initiating or managing change. People with this competence recognize the need for change and remove barriers; challenge the status quo to acknowledge the need for change; champion change and enlist others in its pursuit; and model the change expected of others.

5. Conflict Management
Definition: Negotiating and resolving disagreements. People with this competence handle difficult people and tense situations with diplomacy and tact; spot potential conflict, bring disagreements into the open and help de-escalate; encourage debate and open discussion; and orchestrate win-win solutions.

6. Building Bonds
Definition: Nurturing instrumental relationships. People with this competence cultivate and maintain extensive informal networks; seek out relationships that are mutually beneficial; build rapport and keep others in the loop; and develop and maintain personal friendships among work associates.

7. Collaboration and Cooperation
Definition: Working with others toward shared goals. People with this competence balance a focus on tasks with attention to relationships; collaborate through sharing plans, information and resources; promote a friendly, cooperative climate; and spot and nurture opportunities for collaboration.

8. Team Capabilities
Definition: Creating group synergy in pursuing collective goals. People with this competence model team qualities like respect, helpfulness and cooperation; draw all members into active and enthusiastic participation; build team identity, esprit de corps and commitment; protect the group and its reputation; and share credit.

The basic idea of social persuasion is that you can learn to tap into what others are thinking and what motivates them, and then use those insights to positively influence others. If you think you are hiding your own negative thoughts and emotions toward others, you are not. They see it, they feel it, and you must truly change your own thoughts and emotions to effectively influence them.

About the Author: Parrish Taylor is the author and instructor of Mental & Emotional Training (M.E.T.), a skills development program. He has successfully implemented workforce development strategies within the electric utility sector for numerous clients including Entergy, Cleco and Oklahoma Gas & Electric. To learn more, visit Taylor has also served as an adult learning consultant for the last 20 years. Learn more at

Editor’s Note: “Learning Leadership” is a series dedicated to the human side of doing your job well. Each article in the series will help readers develop a greater understanding of the mental and emotional skills necessary to succeed in today’s workplace. If you have comments about this article or a topic idea for a future issue, please contact Parrish Taylor at 866-487-2815 or


Leadership Development