Much of leadership is about persuasion and influence. And the higher one rises in an organization, the higher the stakes are.

What fascinates me about influence and persuasion is that so quickly and so easily we can become focused on the wrong end of the stick and sabotage our results.

I’m a big believer in focusing on the process rather than the outcome.  I believe it is beneficial in so many contexts and lately, I have been thinking about it in the context of persuasion.

Many times, at work and beyond, we find ourselves wanting to persuade another person to come along to our point of view.  But typically, the more tightly we clench our fists, the more our desired outcome, like sand, slips through our fingers.  

The tunnel vision of persuasion

In my observation,  when we are overly focused on changing another person’s opinion, our focus narrows to a tunnel or even a pinhole.  We lose track of the bigger picture.  This person’s current perspective may actually be beneficial somehow in its own way, but that gets lost because we are so determined to bring them along to our point of view.

And heaven help us if what we are trying to influence is someone’s opinion about us. Now, instead of you and this other person looking at a problem and trying to find a solution, that “problem” is us, or so it seems at this moment.   It’s hard to respond constructively to criticism when we are busy deflecting it and simultaneously projecting ourselves as something we aren’t convinced that we are.  Potentially helpful feedback ricochets around as we try to will the person to see us a certain way.  

What causes us to get into this mode?

We tend to slip into this line of thinking when we feel threatened somehow.  The stakes feel high to us: like a critical business decision that could impact all the people on our team; or a new manager who is planning organizational changes and we have been feeling for a while now like our position may be at risk.

It doesn’t just stop at losing opportunities to grow, improve, or make better business decisions, though. Because once we are on a roll with focusing on an outcome rather than the process to get there, the people involved start to take note.  They start to feel manipulated.  Trust starts to break down.

And that is when this behavior turns from not-helpful to downright damaging.  

So, it is worth paying attention to where your focus lies, when in the throes of persuasion.  

Are you narrowly focused on your outcome, or are you focused on your process that you intend to get to your outcome?  

Outcome orientation vs. process orientation

Outcome OrientationProcess Orientation
You feel the need to overcome the ignorance of another person and show them the right way.You wonder if they might have a point that is worth considering.  You look for value in their outside perspective.
You spend 80% of your preparations on how to overcome an objection and 20% of your preparations on researching the range of possibilities.You spend 20% of your preparations on how to overcome an objection and 80% of your preparations on researching the range of possibilities for your desired outcome, including ideas besides your own.
You are preoccupied (ok, obsessed) with how your manager sees you and read into every little remark s/he makes.  Or even more exhausting, you read into every silence.You seek feedback that will help you become a better leader, knowing that by focusing on continual improvement, you will make the right impression.  

If you find yourself in Outcome Orientation, not to worry.  We all land there at one point or another.  

Here are some questions you can ask yourself if you want to expand your perspective and get out of Outcome Orientation:

  • If something were true about what they think, what might that something be?  
  • What is valid about this person’s perspective? 
  • What benefit would there be to taking this perspective into account?
  • What is one small way I could take their perspective into account?

Don’t let your expertise get in the way of the best outcome for you, your team, or your business.

Wendy Hultmark, CPC, ACC, is a coach who helps women in leadership own their stories and write the next chapter. Learn more at