Last week, I had an interesting conversation about the art of influence and persuasion in business setting with a few colleagues. We are constantly trying to persuade people to share in our views, help us complete projects (or at least not become an opposing force) and in the case of introducing a new program of works to a company, usher in changes that need to be implemented. These activities require cooperation from all involved and sometimes to achieve these changes we need to influence and persuade people to our way of thinking. Some call this manipulations. I am not going to go into the granular detail and map the difference between influencing, persuading and manipulating.
I have a penchant for the classic works of philosophy and literature – the older the better in my case (considering a lot of books of strategy in business & personal growth, have their roots in one of these classical works if not a modernised version of the actual work – think Emothinal Intelligence Book – based on Plato’s work…nough said) . There is a sense of drama and seriousness in these books which really do appeal to me, and being an avid student of human nature, I love reading the views expressed on this particular topic. Generally this is followed by my own amazement that human nature hasn’t changed much over the course of our evolution.
But I digress, some years ago I was given a book by a friend called The Essays, by Francis Bacon. Francis Bacon was an English philosopher, statesman, scientist, jurist, orator, essayist, and author. He served both as Attorney General and Lord Chancellor of England. After his death, he remained extremely influential through his works, especially as philosophical advocate and practitioner of the scientific method during the scientific revolution.
One of my favourite passages is in section 48 of the “The Essays” by Francis Bacon, titled “Of Negotiating”:
…All practice is to discover, or to work. Men discover themselves in trust, in passion, at unawares, and of necessity, when they would have somewhat done and cannot find an apt pretext. If you would work any man, you must either know his nature and fashions, and so lead him; or his ends and so persuade him; or his weakness and disadvantages, and so awe him; or those that have interest in him, and so govern him. In dealing with cunning persons, we must ever consider their ends, to interpret their speeches; and it is good to say little to them, and that which they least look for. In all negotiations of difficulty, a man may not look to sow and reap at once, but must prepare business, and so ripen it by degrees.
Needless to say, I have this hanging on the wall, so that I read it everyday….