Quick—think of one thing that would make your job better.
Maybe you’re itching to work from home once a week, lead a new project, or get a promotion. You have solid reasons why it would benefit you and your team, but that’s not always enough to convince your boss.
That’s because how you make your case is going to impact how effective it is. Quantified Communications, the company I work for, conducted linguistic analyses on hundreds of communication samples from the world’s greatest leaders to find out how some of the most successful people structure their arguments.
It turns out that just leaning on facts and logic in every discussion isn’t the best approach. You also need to know when to use appeals to emotion and intuition. And to see the best results, you have to use all three of these tactics and apply them to the right situations.
1. Situation: You Want to Change a Company Policy
Strategy: Lean on Emotion
If you want to work from home every Friday—or are asking your boss to relax the dress code, or boost the parental leave policy—focus on emotional appeals. Because these kinds of decisions often feel abstract (i.e., they’re not as easy to correlate with company performance), the best way to get the boss on board is to make him or her her feel personally involved.
Research has shown that when we use emotional language (think: narrative elements like vivid sensory language) to make our points, listeners can see the messages in their minds’ eye and they’re more likely to align their thinking with ours.
So, asking to work from home would sound like this:
I’d like to discuss the possibility of working from home one day a week. For the most part, the fact that we talk through problems and bounce ideas off each other really makes us a more cohesive, creative team. However, I find I often have a hard time changing gears and focusing on independent tasks. I want to be there for my teammates when someone poses a question. And I feel antisocial if I’m wearing my noise-canceling headphones all day long. Working from home once a week, with no extra chatter or distraction, would help me put my head down and dive deep into my work. Then I’d come back to the office the next day ready to give my full attention to collaborative projects.
This argument is compelling because you shared how the work environment makes you feel in a relatable way. You want your boss to think, “I get that,” as it’ll make them more open to your proposed solution.
2. Situation: You Want to Run Point
Strategy: Appeal to Intuition
When you want to persuade your manager to let you lead a project, your best bet is to play to their intuition. Our analysis shows this is the most common approach successful people take, and when you think about it; it makes total sense.
To get someone on your side, you’ve got to convince them to trust you by building up your own credibility and expertise. Brands do this by citing awards and publishing rave reviews from top clients, and you can adopt similar tactics to help nudge the boss’ “gut feeling” in your favor. Your pitch would sound like this:
I’m excited about our plans to host a conference later this year, and want to discuss spearheading the effort. As you know, event planning was a regular facet of my last job, and I planned something similar there. In addition, our local clients enjoyed the networking dinner I organized last quarter—and I’d love to offer that kind of value on a much bigger scale.
By highlighting successes and citing others who believe in your work, you foster the trust that might land you the gig. Intuitively, it “just makes sense” to let you lead the project.
3. Situation: You Want a Promotion
Strategy: Make a Logical Argument
Logical appeals are most effective on audiences who are deeply familiar with your work and value. When you’re asking your boss for a raise or a promotion, he or she is looking for cold, hard facts. Unlike in the prior instances, it’s not enough to state that it would make you happier, or that other people love your work.
Your goal is to show what you’re worth, and to do that, you have to lead with logic. That means concrete data, research, and statistics. Head to your performance review with a speech like this:
This year I implemented an automated reporting system that saved me six hours per week. That allowed me to focus on activities that helped the company sign five new clients and grow eight existing accounts by an average of 12%. Based on the value I’ve already added to the company, and the strategy I’ve built to increase that growth by 25% over the next six months, I’d like to ask you to increase my salary by 5%.
Your boss is concerned with your company’s bottom line, so a concrete demonstration of how you’ve added to it is the best way to persuade him or her to give you a raise. When they review the numbers, they’ll be thinking about the ones you shared as well.
Asking for what you want can be daunting. But choosing the right technique and strategizing before you ask will help you lead an impressive conversation—and increase your chances of success.