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Reader’s Review

John Baker

The Five Paths To Persuasion: The Art of Selling Your Message
By Robert B. Miller and Gary A. Williams
240pp. New York: Warner Business Books, 2005
Paperback Edition (US) $19.95

Five Paths To Persuasion explores one of the most fundamental skill areas for effective negotiation: “the art of selling your message.” We all know that no matter how powerful the person we meet and how “brilliant” our presentation, our work all comes to naught if we can not persuade the decision-maker to take favorable action.

Some years ago, I worked with a major corporate sales force to improve its performance. This group sold big ticket goods and services to top executives in major U.S. companies. Its sales personnel were trained and trained and trained some more so all of them carried the same message and had learned the same skills. Never-the-less, quarter after quarter the same small group of individuals were the sales leaders. Why? It might have been luck, it might have been the account mix, it might have been many things or it might have been that they had a skill that the others did not possess. Similar results follow in almost every large group of negotiators. Repeatedly, like the outstanding sales personnel, some negotiators succeed far more often than others. Why?

All sales personnel were trained in identifying and working with various personality styles as well as in reading non-verbal signals, etc. What the leaders knew was how to convince a wide variety of individuals to act. They were skilled in the art of persuasion. What then, did the better persuaders do or know that the others did not?

Based on extensive research and lengthy consulting experience, Robert Miller and Gary Williams provide an interesting and valuable answer in their study of the effective use of persuasion. Their work will be of interest to all negotiators.

To reach their conclusions, the authors surveyed 1,684 executives (97% in the United States and the remainder in Canada and Australia) for this study. Researchers will be interested to learn that twenty percent of the interviews for this study were by phone or in person, whereas the vast majority of interviews (80%) were conducted on line or by fax. Importantly, also, the authors are quick to point out that their sample is far from global and readers need to recognize that factor and its consequent limits.

Using cluster analysis, the authors found that business executives were divided into five types of decision-making styles: Charismatics, Thinkers, Skeptics, Followers and Controllers. The largest single group was made up of the Followers. Importantly, Miller and Williams warn, decision styles are not the same as personality traits and should not be confused.

Now that we know that five separate styles of decision-making exist, it becomes immediately clear that “a one size fits all” approach to persuasion is not only far from ideal, but potentially disastrous in negotiations. Effective negotiation, then, requires the identification of the decision-styles of the participants and tailoring approaches to address them. There are, indeed, five paths to decisions.

To further clarify what you will find here, let us look briefly at two of these decision styles and see some of the points on which they differ. Additionally, we will briefly touch on the differences in approach that will be required to effectively address each of the groups.

The first of the groups, the Charismatics, are identified as decisive “big picture” types who want to know “the bottom lines,” including the risks, immediately. This is a group that quickly loses interest in descriptions of details and “numbers.”

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February 2006