The Art Of Persuasion Explored

James Richardson Modern business organizations are less hierarchical and more democratic (even perhaps holacratic), with decision making widely distributed and consensual. Of course, this varies with company and local culture and type of decision, but for the vast majority collaborative working is the norm.

This means that managers cannot often say “make it so” like Jean-Luc Picard in his captain’s chair. Nor can the bulk of workers simply wait for orders to carry out. Instead we have to convince our co-workers of a course of action to take. We have to make proposals. We have to persuade.

The question is how do we do that? How do we persuade others? Answering those questions and considering the findings is the subject of the Qlik Innovation & Design (IAD) Team’s latest research digest The Art of Persuasive Communication in the Workplace.

This digest explores the strategies and techniques we use when sharing and discussing information in order to influence an outcome. The work began with some raw research, surveying over 200 people in the USA and Canada to understand their methods and approaches to business persuasion. In addition this issue explores the broader use of narrative as a tool for persuasion and knowledge transfer at length, and from different angles.

Why did we research this subject?

As I’ve blogged on before, it’s fair to say that storytelling is a hot topic in the BI/analytics world just now, but outside of that bubble people aren’t perhaps thinking in those terms. Hard-pressed managers in commercial organizations don’t think to themselves “I must tell some compelling stories today at work!” But that’s precisely what they do: the survey found that when making a proposal to a group, 86 per cent of people almost always or often take time to “lay out what has happened previously” and then 80 per cent almost always or often take time to “project forward or to predict possible outcomes”.  In other words they use a narrative flow to engage and persuade.  Gathering data on analogous behavior helps us to understand what people actually do when it comes to the reality of telling stories.

Further, the research was prompted by the increasing number of conversations we’re having about what data storytelling is and a desire to move the debate forward.  The Qlik IAD team feels that the discussion about data storytelling in the BI industry is in the main too lightweight and lacking in both research and insights that can be brought in from other disciplines such as design, literary theory and anthropology. Stories are complex, and we believe that researching the topic with these inputs can help to set a new agenda for business storytelling going forward over the next few years.

Finally, data storytelling isn’t just about visualizations and infographics; it’s about engaging people and triggering actions.  Analysts need to think about how stories get told with data, and how to get the most from them.  The digest should be of interest to anyone using storytelling techniques in business or designing products which afford those techniques.