1: Define problem >> Analyze problem >> Recommend solution.

This sequence is the “normal” or “rational” way of communicating, Stephen Denning writes The Secret Language of Leadership. “It’s an appeal to reason—a model that has been the hallowed Western intellectual tradition ever since the ancient Greeks. . . And it works well enough when your aim is merely to pass on information to people who want to hear it.”

But what if our goal is to get people to change what they are doing and act in a decidedly different way with drive and enthusiasm?

In that case, this approach has two severe limitations: “One, it doesn’t work. And two, it often makes the situation worse,” writes Stephen.

Giving reasons for change to people who don’t agree isn’t just ineffective. A significant body of psychological research shows that it often entrenches them more deeply in opposition to what you are proposing,” he notes.

2: All is not lost, however. There is, however, a proven formula for persuading people who disagree with us.

Get attention >> Stimulate desire >> Reinforce with reasons

“When the language of leadership is deployed in this sequence, it can inspire enduring enthusiasm for a cause and spark action to start implementing it,” Stephen writes.

In fact, this three-step approach, or “leadership communication triad,” is flexible and can be used as a template to tackle virtually any leadership challenge. It can be adapted to meet the needs of the specific audience and the time available.

“If resistance in the audience is particularly high, the speaker may need to spend a great deal more time getting attention than when the audience is already somewhat interested,” he notes.  

“By contrast, in an elevator speech, there may be time only for the critical middle step—a story that kindles desire for change. 

“Where generous time is available, the speaker may be able to give a large number of reasons in favor of change.”

Step one is to get our audience’s attention: “If people aren’t listening, speakers are simply wasting their breath. And in most settings today people are not listening in any attentive way.”

3: So how do we get our audience’s attention? 

For this initial step, we are smart to “go negative.” 

“Social scientists have also shown that negative messages are more attention getting than positive messages,” Stephen writes.

One approach is to begin by talking about the audience’s problems (“These problems are serious … ”) or the trajectory of the problems (“These problems are getting worse”).  

We catch their attention by “talking about the issues that are keeping them awake at nights and describe those problems more starkly than they have ever heard in their lives,” he suggests in The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling. “Suddenly they’re not just interested in what you have to say: they’re riveted.”

Another effective technique, especially if the audience does not know us, is to share how we have dealt with adversity similar to what they are experiencing.  

“One reason they’re not listening may be that they don’t know what sort of a person we are or why we might be relevant to their future,” he notes. “In this setting, communicating who you are through a story can begin to generate the interest and trust that you will need as a platform to spring them into the future.”

Other attention-getting techniques include asking a provocative question, putting forth a challenge, leading with a striking metaphor, conducting an unexpected exercise, or sharing a vulnerability.

More tomorrow when we will cover the other two components of “leadership communication triad:” stimulating desire and reinforcing with reasons.


Reflection: Think back to when I attempted to persuade my team to adopt a new policy or change behavior. Which approach did follow: The “Define problem >> Analyze problem >> Recommend solution” or the “Get attention >> Stimulate desire >> Reinforce with reasons”

 Action: How did it go? What can I learn from this experience?

What did you think of this post?

1 Comment

  1. “Get attention >> Stimulate desire >> Reinforce with reasons.”

    So… recruiting? 🙂

Write A Comment