Are You Attempting to Influence “Skeptics”? What You Need to Know

By Justin Grensing, Esq., MBA

A few weeks ago, we looked at an article in Harvard Business Review written by Gary A. Williams and Robert B. Miller titled “Change the Way You Persuade.”In the article, Williams and Miller analyze the results of a survey in which they surveyed over 1,600 executives over a period of two years and categorized them into five different decision-making types: Thinkers, Charismatics, Controllers, Followers and Skeptics. Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve looked at thinkers and charismatics.  This week we’re going to look at the Skeptics.


Williams and Miller found that roughly 19 percent of the executives they surveyed fell into the skeptics category, and they describe this group as “highly suspicious of every single data point, especially any information that challenges their worldview.”

The authors say that “Perhaps the most defining trait of skeptics is that they tend to have very strong personalities. They can be demanding, disruptive, disagreeable, rebellious, and even antisocial. They may have an aggressive, almost combative style and are usually described as take-charge people.” Prominent skeptics include Steve Case, Larry Ellison and Tom Siebel.


According to Williams and Miller, finding common ground with a skeptic can help you gain some credibility, and you’ll need as much credibility as you can get if you’re going to persuade a skeptic. This could mean being alums of the same school, having worked for the same company in the past, having similar beliefs or values within the company or having shared allies. “Doing this will let the skeptic maintain his superior position while allowing you to openly discuss issues on his level,” say the authors.


Williams and Miller caution that it can be a dicey game to challenge a skeptic and suggest giving the skeptic room to save face if this must be done. You don’t want to be perceived as a threat to the skeptic by calling them out on bad information or faulty logic without a little bit of tact. “For him to trust you,” they say, “he needs to maintain his reputation and ego. And remember that skeptics do not like being helped; they prefer having people think they know something already.”

Final Thoughts

Despite coming across as rude and arrogant, one positive of skeptics is that you almost always know where you stand with them. They won’t make you wait long for their decisions, and if they feel like you are someone you can trust, and they like your idea, they’ll want to move forward almost immediately. Some buzzwords Williams and Miller suggest you might want to plant in their minds: feel, grasp, power, action, suspect, trust, agreeable, demand, and disrupt.

(This contributed post is the first in a series from our colleague, Justin Grensing. Over the next several weeks we’ll be publishing his posts on each of these decision-making types and how you can most effectively influence them. If you are interested in contributing a post to our blog, please let us know.)

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