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Book Review: Influence and Persuasion (HBR Emotional Intelligence Series)

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If you want to be a leader who can consistently convince a team to get behind your cause, you need to be a master of influence and persuasion. After all, only by getting people to share your viewpoints and champion your ideas can you make your goals a reality.

Despite its importance, the ability to influence and persuade can feel elusive. If you ever look at charismatic, well-loved leaders and think they must’ve been born with a knack for rallying people, you’ll be happy to know it’s not all innate. You can learn how to influence groups of people—it’s a skill that can be developed and practiced. One place you can start is Harvard Business Review’s recent addition to their Emotional Intelligence Series, Influence and Persuasion.

Influence and Persuasion is a compilation of eight articles, previously published on HBR.org (one by our very own CEO, Nancy Duarte), that offer up concrete ways for leaders to influence the people around them. The book leverages scientific research to explain how influencing someone works, and it includes real-life stories that show how persuasive techniques succeed. Each essay hones in on the same key concept: that emotional appeals are incredibly powerful when it comes to persuasive workplace communication, and that the best leaders are the ones who can speak to people’s hearts and appeal to their minds.

heart connected to the mind graphic - influence and persuade

Influence and Persuasion is a must-have for any leader who wants to better understand how to get buy-in from their stakeholders and team members. It’s also a good resource for professionals who are great at using data to develop compelling arguments, but who aren’t quite sure how to appeal to emotions.

Some of the best pieces in the book offer particularly unique angles on persuasion. These include:

  • “Learning Charisma” by John Antonakis, Maria Fenley, and Sue Leicht, where the authors identify charisma as an effective persuasive tool for public speakers, then offer readers concrete tips for building and practicing charisma in themselves.
  • Kevin Hogan’s piece, “The Surprising Persuasiveness of a Sticky Note,” which speaks to the remarkably powerful effects of adding a personal message to a professional request in order to increase the chances of compliance.
  • The Influence and Persuasion opener, “Understand the Four Components of Influence,” by Nick Morgan, which offers a detailed breakdown of what exactly influence is, and how leaders can master each of its crucial components.

Nancy Duarte’s essay, “To Win People Over, Speak to Their Wants and Needs,” focuses on one of the most critical components of being able to effectively exert influence: empathy. She explains that when you can empathize with the people you’re trying to persuade, you’re able to understand their point of view and feel what it’s like to stand in their shoes. Thus, you can better shape your argument in a way that appeals effectively to their emotions and desires, then deliver your message in a way that feels relevant and significant to their circumstances.

persuading minds graphic

In Influence and Persuasion Duarte goes beyond explaining the importance of empathy. She also offers actionable tips for developing empathy as a leader in the workplace, and she illustrates several real-life scenarios in which leaders were able to better guide their organizations to success because they found a way to relate to their team members emotionally. In her essay, Duarte dares business leaders to do something many don’t realize is important: to relate passionately to colleagues and team members, and to forge empathic bonds so that teams are more motivated, compliant, and loyal.

Ultimately, Influence and Persuasion is a short and easily digestible volume that packs a big punch. It does a good job balancing research which illustrates why persuasion matters, with actionable tips for leaders who want to become more convincing. If you manage people in a professional setting, you should keep a copy of this book on your shelf. Reference it when you feel tempted to turn to data, but actually need to tug at heartstrings—or when you’re team’s feeling reticent, but you’re ready for them to rally.

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