What Les Misérables Can Tell You About Communication
June 12, 2017 by Bill Rosenthal

Bear with me while I present to you an argument for improving the living conditions of women in 19th century Paris. I promise it’s relevant to our ongoing discussion of business communication. In 19th century Paris, 52% of women lived in tenement housing in the center of the city, 20% lived in the households where they worked as servants, 25% lived with family or friends, and 3% lived on the street. Did that persuade you that something should be done? Probably not.

If, on the other hand, I gave you a DVD of the film Les Misérables, where the lives of these women are dramatized with costume and song and the personal story of Fantine, you would be persuaded that their living conditions were intolerable, and your persuasion would not be the result of statistics, but as a result of your emotional response to the countless tragedies offered up by that story. I’ve seen people cry while watching that movie. Les Misérables is fiction, of course, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. In fact, Fantine’s misery is borne out by the statistics!

I’m not saying you should mount a stage production or even sing a song when you need to achieve persuasion. I’m just saying you need to recognize that persuasion is an emotional proposition, and you probably aren’t going to achieve it by simply presenting your idea, no matter how reasonable it is. You need to engage the person you are trying to persuade. Les Misérables engages its audience with music, color, sympathetic characters, and special effects. You don’t have those resources available, but you’ve got something else: dialogue.

Persuasive dialogue is a step-by-step process. First, you need to understand the other person’s world. You need to know something about the other person’s personality, goals, and aspirations. You can learn some of this by researching the person beforehand, but you get most of it through careful, active listening. Second, when you’re ready to present your idea, organize your story in the way that most closely aligns with the other person’s personality, goals, and aspirations. Be clear and use the kind of evidence most likely to appeal to this particular person. Third, in subsequent give and take, look for sources of conflict and manage them.

The dictionary suggests you can achieve persuasion by “appealing to reason.” Certainly most businesspeople try to persuade that way – by straightforwardly stating an argument, presuming that once the other person sees something from the “proper” perspective, opinion will follow.

But when someone converts your point of view, it is often more than a minor adjustment based on a logical marshaling of arguments. You feel persuaded, and your commitment to the new point of view involves more than just your rational mind. If you’re watching Les Misérables, you may even weep a little. 

Communispond offers a course that teaches a six-step process for achieving persuasion called Persuasive Dialogue™It refines your active listening skills, teaches you how to open a discussion and position a topic, present your ideas effectively, and bridge any disagreements. It is a systematic and skills-based approach to the emotional process of persuasion. If you’re serious about advancing your ideas with other people, follow the link and learn more about it.