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  • Writer's pictureHarshal

Convincing With Confidence: A Product Manager's Guide To Persuasion And Influence

Nail Your PM Interviews And Manage Your Stakeholders: Tips For Building Credibility And Relationships


There are 100s of books on persuading or influencing someone. You might have persuaded 100s of colleagues in the last 100 days. But, do you have a standard method? Can you explain it to a five-year-old?


After teaching this to many PM aspirants, I realized I should write it down.


I’ll share the framework focusing on building trust by establishing credibility and relationships. I’ve used it at work and when answering leadership questions in Product Management interviews. It is from research by Jay Conger in the Harvard Business Review and a course on Persuasion and Influence by UCLA Anderson’s Professor Noah Goldstein.


In this post, you will find:

  1. Why do persuasion and influence matter

  2. Persuading colleagues as a Product Manager

  3. Interview questions to test your persuasion skills

  4. Tips to demonstrate your persuasion skills in interviews

  5. Failed approach to persuasion

  6. 3 elements of a successful persuasion


I'm grateful to Prince Jain, Software Engineer at Google and poet, for reviewing this article and giving the gift of feedback. His ideas helped make it easier to understand and more valuable. I’m thankful for the review and additions by Krishna Bang, Staff Product Manager at Twilio, to Element 3 and the last section.


Persuading and influencing colleagues.
Persuading and influencing colleagues.

This post was originally published on www.sparkcreativetechnologies.com on 30, Nov 2023.


Why Persuasion And Influence Matter

In a team project, you need others' help to succeed. You cannot command anyone to act according to your wishes. Even if you have the best understanding and perspective of the project or the company. You can only request them. You must request them to act in a way that will help your project succeed.


This technique of getting someone to change their actions to support your project is persuasion or influence.


People want to know not just “What should I do?”, but also, “Why should I do it?”

I’ve rephrased parts of these sections with inputs from Prince Jain, poet and Googler, to make the sections easier for you to read.


Persuasion In Product Management

A Product Manager has a dotted-line connection to the Engineering team. PMs also work with other functions, including marketing, sales, business intelligence, customer support, and design. Their product's success relies on convincing these teams to work towards common goals.


So, product managers must excel in persuasion and influence.


Demonstrating Persuasion In Interviews

Product Managers need the skills of persuasion and influence. So, interviewers often ask Product Manager candidates behavioral or functional questions to test their persuasion skills and experience.


When sharing past experiences, like leading a team or working with others, your story should showcase your persuasive skills. Learn about preparing for behavioral questions as a PM here. Example questions:

  • Tell me about a time you had to work with a tough co-worker.

  • Talk about a time you faced pushback on your idea.

  • What is your biggest accomplishment? What was its impact? How did you accomplish it? (Although this isn't directly a question about teamwork, your answer to this question will reveal how you collaborate and demonstrate your persuasive abilities through your interactions with colleagues.)


You can see examples of direct functional questions below. Read about functional questions for product managers here.

  • Describe your leadership style.

  • How do you make cross-functional initiatives successful?

  • What is your approach to handling a difficult co-worker?


Articles to improve your interviewing skills are here:


9 Tips For Interview Answers As A Product Manager

Use these tips as a guide/checklist to showcase your persuasion and influence skills during an interview. Ask yourself, do your behavioral stories or functional answers have these elements?

List of 9 tips to demonstrate persuasion skills in an interview, starting with trust via credibility and relationships.
List of 9 tips to demonstrate persuasion skills in an interview, starting with trust via credibility and relationships.
  1. Build trust in 2 ways: Demonstrate how you've 1) established credibility and 2) nurtured relationships to gain trust.

  2. Understanding stakeholder motivations: Show your ability to recognize and address the motivations and incentives of the stakeholders you've worked with.

  3. Cross-functional teamwork: Describe your experiences working with diverse teams, including engineering, design, product, sales, support, customer success, marketing, legal, and finance, highlighting your collaborative skills.

  4. Informal relationship building: Share examples of how you've built relationships outside of formal settings, such as through coffee chats or cafeteria lunches. Show examples of one-on-one meetings with anyone apart from your manager or reports. These emphasize relationship building beyond immediate persuasion needs.

  5. Using visual tools: Share how visuals like architecture diagrams or customer journey maps helped you clarify and facilitate discussions.

  6. Utilizing real-life examples: Mention how you incorporated anecdotes from user interviews, support tickets, or sales conversations to add depth and relatability to your conversations with colleagues.

  7. Collaborative problem solving: Explain how writing and documenting your thoughts helped you process challenges and co-create solutions with your team, highlighting your collaborative nature. Maybe the final solution was co-created along with your colleagues.

  8. Responsive to feedback: Describe how you've addressed feedback and identified gaps in your ideas, showcasing your adaptability and commitment to continuous improvement.

  9. Prototyping and testing ideas: Discuss how you've used MVPs or prototypes to prove the viability of your ideas.


While these are some key tips for interview answers, the subsequent sections will delve deeper into the theories and practical aspects of persuasion and influence.


3 Elements Of Successful Persuasion

Many business professionals consider persuasion as a one-shot effort. (They think) They follow these steps:

  1. Share their idea or opinion, with passion,

  2. Provide data to back up their claim or recommendation, and

  3. Move to the deal-making stage to work towards a “close”.


But, this approach often fails. Persuasion is more than just words. Persuasion is not a one-shot effort, but a collection of actions you take to convince your colleagues.

Do 3 things to persuade someone about your idea:

  1. Build trust by establishing credibility and relationships (The most important bit),

  2. Connect emotionally with your audience, and

  3. Align interests by identifying common ground.

Persuasion requires trust, emotional connect, and aligned interests.
Persuasion requires trust, emotional connect, and aligned interests.

Here are my recommended books and resources around persuasion and influence:


I covered the 90 books I read in 2022 here.


Element 1 - Build Trust By Establishing Credibility And Relationships

Building trust requires establishing credibility and nurturing relationships.
Building trust requires establishing credibility and nurturing relationships.

You want to build trust by Establishing credibility and relationships. These 2 legs are the most important components in persuasion influence findings. If nothing else, add these 2 legs to your thesis of answering behavioral questions.


1A - Show Your Credible Expertise In 6 Ways

Establishing expertise requires 6 things including track record, preparation, and addressing gaps.
Establishing expertise requires 6 things including track record, preparation, and addressing gaps.
  1. Track record of success: Build credibility through a consistent track record of success. If you don’t have a track record, go to point 5.

  2. Visual cues of expertise: Display certificates on your wall, or like doctors who wear lab coats, use visual symbols of your expertise that resonate with your field to reinforce your credibility. Ensure your expertise is introduced by others, which can come across as more genuine. For example, align with your sales rep to introduce you on a call with a customer.

  3. Preparation: Prepare for potential questions and arm yourself with evidence. This preparation closes gaps in your reasoning and demonstrates thoroughness. When you don’t know everything, go to point 4.

  4. Address gaps: If there are weak spots in your knowledge, take the time to learn or hire consultants to fill those gaps. If you acknowledge these gaps before others do, you maintain control over the narrative. Using respected sources of information and consulting with experts not only fortifies your arguments but also demonstrates a commitment to accuracy and depth.

  5. Pilot projects: Launch a pilot project to test and prove the value of your idea and a small scale version of your expertise.

  6. Feedback on your credibility: A challenge that you might face is overestimating your credibility. This is a “Known-unknown” type of challenge. Since you know you might overestimate, but don’t know when or by how much, apply the following solution. Constantly seek feedback and be willing to adjust your approach.


1B - Build Relationships In 4 Ways

Nurture relationships by building 1-1 connections and acting in your audience’s best interests.
Nurture relationships by building 1-1 connections and acting in your audience’s best interests.

When you have a robust relationship, you are given the benefit of the doubt when you bring a differing perspective to the table. To build trusting relationships, consider these thoughts:

  1. In their best interests: Be known to act in the best interests of others. Listen actively and work towards shared goals. Arguing for your audience's best interests, sometimes even against your own, can significantly build trust.

  2. 1-1 Emotional connections: Connect emotionally, showing that you're not just a speaker, but a listener and a collaborator. Relate on an emotional, personal level. Engage one-on-one, show genuine interest in others, and help them with their work.

  3. Emotional maturity: Demonstrate your emotional maturity and consistency. Build the reputation of being fair and trustworthy. Do not be known as someone who has extreme moods or someone who shoots the messenger.

  4. Find influencers: Find ‘third-party influencers’ - colleagues who have good relations with your audience and align with your perspective. They would help nudge your audience towards your perspective. Build relationships with them and get their buy-in.


Element 2 - Connect Emotionally With Your Audience In 3 Ways

Connect emotionally by tuning to their emotions and showing your balanced passion.
Connect emotionally by tuning to their emotions and showing your balanced passion.

You already know the importance of 1-1 emotional connections from the earlier section. Here, we focus on deepening that emotional connection. We often think we make rational decisions, but research has shown the primacy of emotions in making decisions.

  1. Emotional Investment: Demonstrate your emotional commitment to your perspective. This reinforces that your commitment to this goal is not just intellectual, but is also from your heart and gut.

  2. Balancing passion and rationality: This is a tricky yet crucial. You have passion, vivid language, and stories on one side, and honesty, transparency, and rationality on the other. I suggest balancing those 2 sides to avoid being perceived as irrational. For instance, if you use a strongly negative example to make a point, immediately counterbalance it with positive strong arguments. This prevents discouraging your audience.

  3. Tune Into Your Audience's Emotions: Understand your audience's emotional state. Adjust your approach accordingly – be it assertive or subtle. Understanding your audience may involve casual interactions outside formal settings, like conversations during lunch or in hallways.


This section complements the 'Understanding Your Audience' bullet in the following section.


Element 3 - Align Interests By Identifying Common Ground In These 4 Ways

Align interests by understanding the audience's needs and adapting your proposal to reframe benefits.
Align interests by understanding the audience's needs and adapting your proposal to reframe benefits.

Here is how to align your interests with your audience’s. I’ve added tips from Krishna Bang, Staff Product Manager at Twilio.

  1. Understand your audience: Before you make your case, understand the opinions and concerns of your audience. Talk to them, learn what matters, and align your persuasive efforts with their interests.

  2. Show willingness to adapt: When your audience sees you're eager to hear their views and willing to make changes, their response turns positive. Debate, discuss, and incorporate their suggestions to show your flexibility.

  3. Reframe benefits: You might face resistance from your audience. Frame arguments from the audience's point of view, highlighting benefits to them. Another way for you, as a Product Manager or influencer, is to think of OKRs, BPMs, or other north star goals of the business. How can a team help in a company-wide north star by working on a project with you?

  4. Get feedback: Test your arguments with colleagues. Adapt your arguments based on their feedback to strengthen your position.


Bonus Steps: Present Vivid Language And Compelling Evidence

I have some bonus resources and steps in this section. I’ve added tips from Krishna Bang, Staff Product Manager at Twilio. This is the most hyped step in persuasion, but as you now know, it is an ancillary step. You might already be familiar with some of the following approaches.

  1. Engage with stories: Use not only facts but also stories and vivid, descriptive language to captivate your audience.

  2. Acknowledge weaknesses: Mention small negatives or weaknesses in your argument immediately before presenting your strongest argument. This can enhance trust as it shows honesty and transparency.

  3. Grand vision: As a Product Manager or a business strategy manager, keep the bigger picture in mind. Not just in your mind, but also in your audience’s mind. While you might be focussing on a short-term project, explain how its importance towards a larger goal. Share glimpses of your grand vision to inspire and motivate your audience. For example, if your short-term project is to improve a software feature, explain how this enhancement is part of a broader strategy to revolutionize the user experience.


There are many resources to help you with this, I will point to a few, but not go into this section.


Your Experiences

What strategies have you seen effectively persuade or influence your colleagues?

Do you have a tip that could enhance this article?


If you have any questions or need more tips on acing your next big interview, feel free to reach out at Spark Creative Technologies.

This post was originally published on www.sparkcreativetechnologies.com on 30, Nov 2023.

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