Creating Shared Space - Discovery, Groundwork & Dialogue

Charismatic communication demands a transaction between speaker and listeners, and, as with most forms of fair-trading, customer satisfaction is predicated on exchanging things of equal value. For example, in exchange for a piece of electronic equipment at your local electrical store, you hand over its alleged value in dollars. In effect, the salesman buys your money with the piece of equipment.

Similar dynamics apply when you seek to buy people's commitment to your proposals or ideas. So, what currency do you need to use to purchase attention and a fair hearing from your audience? The currency comes in three denominations:

1. Discovery 2. Groundwork 3. Dialogue

You can choose to spend a reasonable amount of time in discovery mode. It's part of a process of learning about the people you intend to influence. It enables you to gain an insight into their personal worldviews, and the information you gather enables you to respect fully their models of the world and talk their particular dialect.

Groundwork is also a key element, as it represents the preparation phase, of involving others in discussion and debate on the desirability and value of your position and ideas. It enables you to respond with feedback and engage in a mutual search for alternatives. It also provides you with the opportunity to informally test ideas on potential adversaries and modify your approach as you go along.

You can test, revise, hone, and polish your message before you arrive at a final product that incorporates the key needs of your target group. There are many benefits in accommodating other people's concerns, ideas and solutions into your final strategy or proposal. Your groundwork phase can often save you from embarrassing and sometimes perilous consequences.

Dialogue is the art of talking with people rather than talking at them or pretending to consult. It can occur during every stage of the communication process. Formal dialogue, as in a presentation or proposal, best occurs at the stage when you are certain of winning assent and support.

Open dialogue encourages commitment and motivation. It alerts you to the emotional temperature of your audience or group and avoids having an idea or strategy stall through covert opposition and resistance at every turn.


It may not always be possible to know the individual needs, values, or beliefs of larger audiences. So, some communications, presentations, and speeches are necessarily "catch-all" affairs where you may use other powers of persuasion to draw listeners into shared space to discuss the merits of your ideas. Size of crowd, media speeches and interviews, diversity of the congregation, and other factors, sometimes make it difficult to gain an accurate measure of your audience. Never the less, it would be foolhardy to deliver a presentation to a group of people about whom you knew nothing.

Consider extolling the virtues of Australian beef to a group of Vegans, advocating Judaism to a gathering of Shiite fundamentalists, or telling Irish jokes at a Celtic Club. The point is that if you want your listeners to like and trust you, you must tailor your message to the people you're seeking to persuade.

Even rudimentary knowledge about your audience is better than none. But, the more information you have about your listeners, the better you will be able to communicate your message using their language register. After all, if a small or large group comes together to listen to you, it must, by definition, have something in common.

When you align your content with the audience's belief and value structures, you send the signal "We are of the same mind". High-order 'sameness' is one of the most important factors determining whether your presentation will win the day or fall on deaf ears. The more your audience views you and itself as being of one mind, the more receptive it will be to your ideas and proposals.

People make rapid, unconscious calculations on the degree of one-mindedness they share with others, based on finding answers to the following questions:

· Does the speaker/leader think like I do, or think like I want to think, and have a similar attitude and approach?

· Does the speaker/leader share and reflect my core beliefs and values?

. Does s/he share my traditions: roots, culture, education and background?

Approach, attitude, beliefs, and values are significant elements people apply in determining one-mindedness. In important situations when much is riding on the success of your presentation, it would be folly to misalign or mismatch the beliefs and values of your audience.

There are two principle ways to discover and mirror the beliefs and values of your audience or target group.

1. research and/or elicit them

2. mirror universal values and virtues

In researching the values and beliefs of your audience, speak to the client group before the presentation and ask questions along the lines of "What are the things that are important to you in bringing this product to market?" or "Why is it important to you to be seen as an independent operator?" The key part of your questions should be what, why, or how, is something important. If you listen closely to the responses, you will hear words that represent values, beliefs, and deeply held attitudes. Ask questions about:


1. where people stand on particular issues - their values and beliefs?

2. what are the interesting aspects of particular corporate cultures?

3. where is the group focus at the moment?

4. what the primary needs are of the group - what does the group absolutely have to have in order to feel satisfied and fulfilled?

5. what particular challenges or special circumstance confront the group at the moment?

6. What does the group need to have in order to achieve its goals?

If you have been invited to speak to larger groups make a point of finding out as much as you can about the composition of your audience. Gathering the following types of information:


1. What are the basic demographics of the group: age range, gender, positional rank, social background, educational level, etc.?

2. What are the expectations of the audience? What do they expect of you and how has your presentation or speech been promoted?

3. Ask about attitudes, schools of thought, or general political persuasions. A group of liberal lawyers will require a different approach than a group of CBD accountants.

4. Discover as much as you can about the group or organisation that has invited you to speak. What is its history, what are its aims and objectives and what is its main thrust at the moment?

5. Find out if there are any specific issues the group is lobbying for or on which they have tgaken a strong position

6. Who are the group's patrons and senior membership?

Once you have created a map of the nature of your audience, you have an excellent starting point around which to structure the content of your presentation or influence strategy.

Inclusion and consensus-building are vital in gaining attributions of charisma and developing followers. Followers in the workplace are people who subscribe to your vision; who will invest energy, patience, trust, emotion and dedication in you and your goals. Emotional attachment to your vision and supporting values is essential if you want people to work as a team towards the missions you establish.

Charisma and influence are the result of quid pro quo's. In discovering the values and needs of your stakeholders, your part of the bargain is to do unto them as they would be done unto. You do unto "them" by establishing congruence between their needs and aspirations and your mission; by finding ways to share high-order values; by respecting individual differences you encounter, and linking beliefs and interests with your activities and goals. Your stakeholders' response will be greater emotional and motivational arousal, higher self-esteem, more cohesion and greater confidence in you.


Successful dialogue meets four fundamental tenets of effective communication:

1) credibility

2) emotional affiliation

3) 'live' evidence

4) common ground and shared benefits

The first issue you can choose to reflect deeply on when seeking to get people on board is that of credibility. Your own standing with individuals, groups, and audiences marks the initial barrier to be overcome.

Credibility is paradoxically both durable and fragile. It requires constant nurturing during the dialogue phase, particularly in the workplace. Once earned and maintained it can usually withstand the occasional expression of human frailty.

Many leaders, managers, and public figures imagine they enjoy greater credibility than they actually do. They often assume that position and authority is all that's required in shifting opinion, motivating people, and getting others to do what they want.

As any reputable leadership tome will tell you, the 'Pharaoh' era of getting results or attitude change through naked power and proclamation is long dead. And yet, the corporate world and public life are teeming with latter day Tut's and Cleo's who imagine they can shape people's opinions and behaviours with a wave of their royal sceptres and threats of public executions.

Today, authority and credibility do not come with the leadership territory. The trend in most of the western world over the last three decades is that of distrust towards, and challenge of, authority. If you want people to follow your wishes in the twenty-first century, you may like to choose the leadership tools and language of today in place of the quaint relics of the past.

Credibility maintenance at close quarters, such as the workplace or within smaller groups where contact is ongoing, is in essence no different to that of public credibility. It is earned from two principal sources.

Firstly, if you have established a reputation of competency or knowledge in a particular field, your colleagues or listeners will generally endow you with an appropriate degree of credibility within that specialist field.

Looking the part and mirroring sameness are also important factors in establishing credibility. But, an essential element in both workplace and public credibility is continuous maintenance. Personal credibility is a quality that must be ceaselessly affirmed.

Secondly, if you have demonstrated over time that you can be trusted to serve mutual interests over personal interests, your personal credibility will be higher. If you're generally considered to be a person who doesn't close the door on your morality and ethics when you leave home for work, you will have a significant persuasion advantage.

Professional ability and work-based relationships are key factors in credibility in the workplace, whereas appearance and demonstrations of expertise are important to public credibility. In mapping out a workplace or public persuasion plan, the issues of professional expertise and personal relationships form a critical part of any strategy.

You would be well advised to evaluate your ratings in both categories prior to embarking on any major persuasion undertaking. The questions you need to answer as objectively as you can are as follows:

Professional Expertise:

1) What are my target audience's perceptions about my knowledge and track record in the area in which I will seek to influence them?

2) Is my expertise acknowledged and accepted?

3) What other sources of knowledge and expertise can I reference and apply to enhance the credibility of my proposal, strategy, idea, etc.?

4) Who else can I recruit to enrich the credibility of my idea, project, etc.?

Personal Relationships:

1) Does my target audience trust me? Have I shown trustworthiness over time?

2) Do those I'm seeking to persuade view me as someone who shares kudos with them?

3) Do they view me as one of them and one who listens to them?

4) Am I in political accord with the group on this issue?

5) Am I in tune with them intellectually and emotionally

Workplace persuasion often goes awry when inexperienced managers seek to use the force of their position to effect change without attending to the above elements. Public and work-based credibility can be monitored and managed, and is the end result of what you are, what you say, and what you do.

If you desire to be a person of high credibility in the eyes of others, you can choose to conform your words and deeds to templates of trustworthiness embraced by your target audience.

Future pots in this series will explore 'live evidence'. See previous post for developing emotional affiliation with audiences.

(c) Desmond Guilfoyle 1998-2006

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