You can’t be a great sales professional–or even a great leader without the ability to persuade!

Persuasion is critical to inspiring people, motivating them to change, getting them to consider new ideas or new opportunities. We persuade in different ways. We tell stories, we use logical discussion, we present facts and data. We tap into people’s brains, hearts, and emotions. We leverage others to help us persuade, sometimes creating a movement to overwhelm any resistance.

Persuasion often takes time, there is back and forth, we test and refine our argument. We encounter obstacles and resistance, maybe retreat for a few moments, then come back with strategies to overcome the resistance. Above all, we persevere, until we convince.

As sales people, we get a lot of training on persuasion. We refine our abilities to develop compelling presentations. We practice overcoming objections, we practice closing techniques.

So persuasion is important to our abilities to achieve our goals.

However, sometimes we confuse persuasion and communication. Yes, persuasion is part of communication, but it is limiting — and this is the critical problem too many sales people and leaders have. They are always in “persuade” mode, they are always convincing and selling.

Listening is an important part of both persuasion and communication. The problem is that when we are in “persuade” mode, we listen with an agenda. We are hearing only those things that impact our ability to persuade. We take what we hear, use it to reinforce our argument, to shape what we say to move closer to our objectives.

The problem is that when we listen with an agenda, we hear what we want to hear and may not be hearing what others are really saying. Consequently, we can make errors. We may not really be hearing the customer, we pursue our strategy, but may actually be failing because we are becoming increasingly disconnected with the customer. If we aren’t hearing what the customer is saying, we are incapable of responding to their need and creating value meaningful to them.

As leaders, we risk losing the respect of our people. They want to be heard, they want to be involved. If we always listen with an agenda, we turn our people off. Their trust is reduced, their engagement lowers, they become resentful.

What about arguments and conflict? They’re a part of life and business. Too often, they arise as a result of two people trying to persuade each other. The volume intensifies, emotions rise, progress stops. We listen with an agenda. We find the points our “adversary” is making and twist them against them. And they are doing the same.

An important part of communication is listening without an agenda or listening in neutral. To hear what is really being said, to respond to what people mean. It removes the blinders enabling us to identify and address the root issues.

Effective communication is about connecting, less about convincing.

Several years ago, a client called me. “Dave, I have a real problem with one of the executives that reports to me…..” He went on to describe someone I knew well. His team was increasingly struggling, they were meeting many of their goals, they were trying hard, but something was off. Also, there were increasing conflicts–all small, but misfires with other parts of the organization. My friend couldn’t put a finger on it, but he had that churning in his stomach, knowing something was off.

He described the executive. “He’s a brilliant communicator, he’s inspirational, he’s engages everyone. But something is off. I can’t figure it out.”

After a short discussion, we discovered the problem, the executive was a brilliant persuader–but his ability to communicate and connect was being compromised. People didn’t feel they were being heard. Yes they were being “listened to,” but they weren’t being heard. The executive was blind to what really was happening, was starting to be disconnected, trust was eroding. Fortunately, this individual was very thoughtful. With some great coaching, he remains a great persuader, but is also a great communicator.

Take the recent elections and the frustration so many, including me, felt. We listened to countless debates and speeches — all focused on persuasion, none focused on communication and connecting.

Persuasion is important to sales people and leaders–but effective communication trumps everything!