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What's The New Number One Skill?

Learning & Development 1st April 2019

What’s now the most desirable quality among employees? According to the latest LinkedIn data on job opportunities, it’s skills of persuasion.

‘Persuasion’, though, is often seen as being more like manipulation and lies, the kind of dark art used by sales people to pressurise customers into doing the irrational. Culturally it’s just uncomfortable.

Persuasion is the art of getting people to do what you want them to do through the use of reason. It’s a skill that’s in demand because it’s essential in so many ways for organisations: for good management, for good client and customer relationships, for spreading and strengthening trust and understanding. And yet, in general, we’re not very good at it.

Essentially, having persuasion skills is about the ability to have good conversations, having ‘conversational intelligence’. In other words, it’s what an argument is meant to be. Not just two opposing positions where neither side listens or wants to budge; not people using their authority, threats, coercion to force their side.

Having conversational intelligence means employees are equipped to work better, extending a more positive and constructive influence in everything they do, and making workplaces better places to be.  It’s also a set of qualities that can be learnt and developed. People can learn to have situational awareness, curiosity, reflective listening, empathy, self-awareness – and use conversations to persuade in mature, intelligent ways. It’s a set of skills that are more important than ever for working in flatter organisations, without obvious lines of authority, and dependent on the ability of individuals to create their own positive culture.

So we need to clean up the image of persuasion and learn to use good conversations to be persuasive – not to bully or deceive, but get the most from our human strengths of reasoning. If we don’t then there will soon be machines that can. IBM’s Project Debater has already demonstrated that it can beat human debating champions at making persuasive arguments [[https://www.wired.com/story/now-the-computer-can-argue-with-you/]].


Arran Heal, Managing Director, CMP