Stakeholder engagement and buy-in: Influence and persuasion skills with Aristotle and Knights and Dragons

At the recent PM Forum workshop on stakeholder engagement and buy-in there was an interesting mix of delegates from law, accountancy and actuarial firms from across the UK and Ireland and even China. Work roles varied across marketing, business development, PR, internal communications, events, digital and graphic design. We focused on the influencing and persuasion skills advocated by Aristotle’s model and covered tools and techniques harnessing credibility, rationality and emotions. Stakeholder engagement and buy-in: Influence and persuasion skills using Aristotle and Knights and Dinosaurs.

The session is designed to provide delegates with an opportunity to share experiences and best practice on engaging their partners, fee-earners and colleagues in different teams. This post constitutes an additional learning resource. Delegate poll results are shown below.

Buy-in challenges

Three themes emerged from discussions about buy-in:

  1. Magpie syndrome – Senior people (particularly the entrepreneurs) often have a limited attention span. They seize on “shiny” new ideas and want them implemented immediately. But then momentum declines – and projects lapse – as they start focusing on the next new idea. Leadership teams: Maverick Magpies and Predictable Pigeons (
  1. “Lastminititis” – Being under so much pressure, fee-earners often don’t realise what must happen in the background and fail to attend to critical issues in M&BD projects until the very last minute. Which makes planning difficult and often impacts on project delivery.
  1. Resistance to change – The professions can be risk averse and many prefer the status quo meaning they resist new M&BD ideas Dealing with resistance to change ( and Change management and creativity – the adaptive third (

Other delegate challenges included:

  • Getting people from different teams/regions/offices to agree to doing things by the global, firm-wide policy
  • The ROI on communications activity (e.g. raising brand awareness) is not always tangible
  • There’s not enough compliance with policies
  • Often there are differing perspectives between key stakeholders
  • Complex and slow approval processes
  • Gaining acceptance when pitching new ideas
  • Promoting understanding of all the work behind the scenes
  • Constantly coming up against time constraints of fee-earners

Knights and Dinosaurs

During discussions on segmenting internal audiences and stakeholder mapping, we considered both the “dinosaurs” who resist change and the “knights” who champion our cause and promote change. And how best to work with them.

Influence and persuasion skills

Aristotle, an ancient Greek philosopher and polymath, argued that the three pillars of persuasion were:

  • Credibility (Ethos) – reputation, authority, expertise, trustworthiness, stage presence and confidence
  • Logic (Logos) – coherence, structure, facts, data, statistics, test results, research and graphs
  • Emotion (Pathos) – humour, vulnerability, metaphor, surprise, images and storytelling

Cialdini, an American psychologist, in his best-selling book “Influence: the psychology of persuasion” showed research supporting the six drivers of persuasion which reflects these themes – some rational, some emotional (see Influence – Cialdini’s six principles of the psychology of persuasion (

  1. Scarcity
  2. Commitment or consistency
  3. Authority (similar to credibility)
  4. Reciprocity
  5. Social proof (consensus and conformity)
  6. Liking

Chip and Dan Heath – in their fabulous book on change management Change management book – Switch (Chip & Dan Heath) ( – suggested that to promote change you needed to:

  1. Direct the rider – the strong, rational part of people’s brains (the planner)
  2. Motivate the elephant – the emotional drive within people that seeks immediate gratification (the doer)
  3. Shape the path – provide simple, clear direction of what you want people to do. Preferably with simple, short term actions that are within easy reach.

Power of Three

I described the concept of the power of three in persuasion previously Power of three – Writing and presentation basics (Video) (

But three is also important in how we frame options. In behavioural economics, the decoy effect is where people’s choice between two options changes with the introduction of a third option Decoy effect – | The BE Hub. There’s more about how to frame choices in Book review: Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth (

“To have one choice is no choice; to have two choices is a dilemma; and to have three choices offers new possibilities” The Satir Model, Virginia Satir et al (If there are two choices then we assume that one is wrong and one is right!) 

Emotions in B2B decisions

Whilst most people think that business-to-business purchase decisions are based entirely on rational, logical thinking the evidence demonstrates the impact of human connection and emotion. For example:

  • 90% of purchasing decisions are made subconsciously based on emotion not logic
  • Business professionals 50% more likely to buy a product/service that demonstrates personal value through emotional appeal

Key takeaways from delegates

  • Frameworks/mapping tools were really interesting.
  • Stakeholder management table – will surely use for my mid-year plan
  • Adapting strategies to different stakeholder groups
  • Having a stakeholder engagement plan prior to any project
  • Frameworks and approaches to follow
  • Face-to-face persuasion is 34x more effective
  • Present three options – instead of one (no choice) and two (compare)
  • More face-to-face meetings
  • Thinking more about how best to communicate with stakeholders and adapting to their preferred style
  • Looking into the digital body language book as a lot of our partner communication is via email Book review: Digital Body Language – How to build trust by Erica Dhawan (

“Most helpful training I’ve ever attended” was a comment from one of the marketing manager delegates who had joined the session from Hong Kong.

Delegate poll results

Which topic is of most interest?

  • 27% Managing stakeholders
  • 27% Improving internal engagement
  • 9% Achieving buy-in (rational)
  • 27% Achieving buy-in (emotional)
  • 9% Persuasion

Do you think your buy-in challenge relates mostly to:

  • 9% Your personal credibility
  • 36% Concept of M&BD for your fee-earners
  • 36% Specific ideas/projects you are trying to promote
  • 9% Culture of your firm
  • 9% Something else

After the visioning exercise, do you think you are sufficiently clear about what you want buy-in to?

  • 78% Yes
  • 22% It’s complicated

Which is the most important stakeholder group you are trying to influence?

  • 0% Board
  • 64% Partners
  • 27% Senior fee-earners
  • 9 % Other

Which percentage of your fee-earners are engaged with M&BD?

  • 9% 0-25%
  • 64% 25-50%
  • 18% 50-75%
  • 9% 75%+

To what extent are your goals aligned to the firm, team and fee-earner goals?

  • 50% Completely
  • 40% Partially
  • 10% Not at all

Have you prepared a plan for what you are seeking buy-in for?

  • 55% Yes
  • 27% No
  • 18% Sort of

Do you have the required information for the business case for the change/project you want to implement?

  • 40% Yes
  • 0% No
  • 60% Some of it

What is the main reason for resistance at your firm?

  • 80% Lack of fee-earner time
  • 10% Lack of fee-earner motivation (reward systems)
  • 10% Something else
  • 0% Lack of data, information and evidence
  • 0% Perception of M&BD
  • 0% Relationship between fee-earners and M&BD

How would you rate your personal influencing skills:

  1. Very low
  2. 10%
  3. Average 30%
  4. 10%
  5. 30%
  6. 20%
  7. Very high

To what extent do the majority of fee-earners trust you?

  • 20% Totally
  • 50% Somewhat
  • 0% Very little
  • 30% Patchy – some fee-earners more than others

Is the majority of your communication with fee-earners?

  • 22% Face-to-face
  • 22% Virtual meetings
  • 0% Telephone
  • 44% Emails
  • 11% Other

Are you a digital native or a digital adaptor?

  • 22% Digital native
  • 0% Digital adaptor
  • 78% I adapt to the person I am communicating with