No Battle Plan Survives Contact With The Enemy

There’s a saying in the military that’s attributed to Helmuth von Moltke, a German Field Marshall in the 1800s – “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” Why plan for battle then?

The late Bill Walsh, the Hall of Fame head football coach of the San Francisco 49ers, was known for scripting out the first 15 plays his offense would run to start the game. Quite often the script was out the window depending on what happened during the first few downs of the game. Why prepare a script then?

In many martial arts, practitioners go through forms or katas that simulate fight sequences against multiple opponents. It’s highly unlikely that any fight ever unfolded as laid out in a kata. Why
practice the sequences then?

In each case it seems as if the best preparation is a gamble, a potential waste of time and effort, so why go through the motions? Because there’s value in planning beyond the plan. Things may not unfold as planned but soldiers, athletes, and martial artists are more prepared for different eventualities than if they never trained or planned.

How confident would you be in your country’s ability to defend your homeland if they didn’t train and plan? How confident would you be about victory if your favorite sports team had no game plan? How confident would a martial artist be if they never thought about and practiced defending against multiple opponents only to find themselves facing several attackers?

The same thought process applies in persuasion. Many of the concepts I teach in the two-day Principles of Persuasion Workshop® take time and preparation. You see, being an effective persuader isn’t about being a silver-tonged devil in the moment any more than success on the battlefield is just about weapons, or being a good athlete on the football field, or kicking high in martial arts. All of those things are helpful but the best in each field succeed because they prepare and train.

So, what does preparation look like in persuasion? It starts with learning the science of influence. With more than 60 years of research in this field we can turn to studies that clearly tell us which principles of influence to use and when. This understanding will lead to more consistent success than relying on someone’s good advice, what worked for a friend, or your best hunch.

Another way preparation leads to success comes with homework; learning as much as you can about the person you’re trying to persuade. The more you know about someone before you meet with them the easier the persuasion process will be for a couple of reasons.

You can invoke the principle of liking by connecting on what you have in common or offering up genuine compliments. Scanning Facebook, reviewing a LinkedIn profile, or a quick Google search might be all it takes to find the commonalities or things to genuinely compliment.

To effectively utilize the principle of consistency you want to tie your request to what someone has said or done in the past, what they believe, their values, attitudes, etc., because people like to remain consistent in those areas. Again, many of these can be uncovered simply by doing a little research in advance of your meeting.

Will your next attempt at persuasion go as planned? Probably not. Will you be better off having done some planning and preparation? Almost assuredly!

So, here’s my advice – next time you have something important you want someone to say “Yes” to do a little homework beforehand and then allow yourself to see the situation unfold in your mind’s eye in different ways. These seemingly small things could have a big impact on the outcome.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.


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