We can all unleash that bit of Bono inside us…

I am writing this on a plane on my way back to New York where I gave a talk on “The Art and Science of Persuasion.” The event was held at the Dallas Museum of Art  – a truly inspiring locale, with its Zen-like sculpture garden and bold pieces of art by some of my favourite artists, including Mark Rothko and Georgia O’Keefe. Within this beautiful setting, my audience consisted of senior executives, mostly from Fortune 500 firms.

I kicked off my speech by sharing a powerful persuasive moment that took place between U2’s lead singer Bono, and former Senator Jesse Helms. As we all know, Bono is a successful rock star. Bono is also controversial. When he received his Golden Globe award he thanked the committee on national public TV by saying: ”really, really fucking brilliant!” which caused quite an uproar with the Parents Television Council. Known for his liberal views, he is also a humanitarian activist and in 2000, while lobbying to get the debt of developing countries completely cancelled, he met with a number of influential politicians.

Jesse Helms was a five-term Republican Senator. He was also known as ‘Senator No’. He was a fierce opponent of civil rights, feminism and homosexuality. Helms chaired the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, and this was how – one day in September 2000 – Bono sat across the table from him.

Helms intended to cut this meeting short. Right off the bat he declared that he was not interested in Bono’s mission. Bono, however, did not focus on the importance of his own message. He chose another strategy. To get access to this fiercely Christian Republican, Bono started out by citing the bible. He ruminated on how there are 2,103 verses of Scriptures about the poor, and only one pertaining to judgment in the bible. Bono used a language Helms could relate to. In focusing on what was important to Helms, Bono validated the senator and got his full attention. Only then did Bono discuss in greater detail his mission of debt relief for the developing world.

At the end of this meeting the tough senator hugged Bono. Helms later authorized the release of $600 million for developing countries. During their numerous follow-up meetings on Capitol Hill, Helms would hand Bono the keys to his scooter to get around more easily. Bono in turn invited the 80-year old Helms to attend one of U2’s concerts. And even though Helms commented that “this was the noisiest thing I ever heard!”, he was pretty smitten with Bono and it was the beginning of an unlikely friendship.

Much like Bono, if we deliberately start any intent to persuade others with understanding and acknowledging what the other party wants, we are setting ourselves off on a good trajectory. The underlying message we need to send is:

“I hear you. I see you. And what is important to you matters to me.”

If we can subsequently show them how they can get it (keeping our objectives in mind), then we are looking at a win-win outcome and a productive business partnership.

Want to start building your persuasive muscles?

Check out Dale Carnegie’s bestseller “How to make friends and influence people” – a quick read and classic on this always-relevant topic.

If you’ve read it and would like some more recommendations…

Contact us at [email protected] and someone on our team will be happy to make suggestions that will be particularly useful to you.