The Art of Persuasion

Persuasion is not merely getting others to agree, but making them feel good about it too. It means offering convincing reasons in language they understand, so they see our ideas as consistent with their best interests.

A great deal of research has been done on persuasion. The principles below are based on some of these findings. Knowing about them is also useful when faced with someone unwelcome who is trying to influence you.

The fundamental principle

The fundamental principle behind successful persuasion is:

Stop thinking of what you want and instead concentrate on what they want and what you can do for them.

The most powerful persuaders are the word ‘you’ and a person’s name. Phrases such as the following are always likely to make an impact if uttered with sincerity:

  • This is how you’ll benefit, John.
  • This will please your partner/friends/family…..
  • This is specially for you, Jane.
  • You get all these advantages….

Start by listening carefully. Find out their needs, wants and priorities. Listen out for secret motivators – those which they don’t like to admit and can give you leverage. Do they want status, recognition, approval? To feel wanted? Whatever they are looking for, show how you can help them get it.

Immediate lacks have the greatest motivational power. People listen most when you show them how they can have their wants met now.

And remember: only an unsatisfied need motivates.

The ‘Reciprocity Principle’

If you want something from another person, give them something. They then feel obliged. This sounds cynical, but it’s true. And normally you get back more than you gave.

Many organisations use such tactics, e.g. charities mail out free gifts so people feel obliged to make a donation.

Sell the benefits

Every professional knows that they don’t merely sell products and services – they sell benefits and dreams.

A car is more than a means of getting from A to B. Sure, it’s about comfort, performance and value. It’s also a statement of personality, a lifestyle, an aspiration. Facts alone are dry and uninspiring, but a vision persuades.

Pace and lead

Influence the other’s mind set by gently guiding them to  you want them to be. The most effective way is to give them lots of reasons to say ‘yes’. A series of little ‘yeses’ leads on to a big ‘yes’.

One form of pacing and leading which is widely used by professionals is giving options that presuppose ‘yes’.

  • Do you want to pay by cash or credit card?
  • Do you want it now or later?
  • Would you prefer blue or red?
  • Would you prefer our representative to call on Monday or Wednesday?

They ask as if they expect them to concur, making sure their voice and body language are congruent. This works because it is better than giving a choice of ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

Appeal to the emotions

There’s a saying:

‘A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.’

Logic alone rarely wins people over; you must make them feel good about what you are saying. Tell stories, use quotations and speak with enthusiasm and conviction.

Encourage small steps

If what you are suggesting is too overwhelming, lead them through a series of small steps. Small steps make people feel differently about themselves and build confidence.

The principle of consistency

People like to be seen as rational and consistent. These are regarded as measures of integrity and emotional stability. That’s one reason why organisations such as Alcoholics Anonymous and political and religious organisations encourage new recruits to go public. Then it’s hard to back down without being thought of as weak.

Social proof

Social proof is one of the main yardsticks by which people assess an argument’s merits. They look for evidence of what’s what by observing other people, especially those who are in their reference or aspirational group. Social proof is especially powerful when one is unsure of the facts.

If you’re trying to prove the merits of your argument, cite people who support your case. Choose people who:

  • Are similar to the person you’re engaged with;
  • They aspire to emulate; and/or
  • They fear, trust or respect.

Also give examples of people like themselves who are already convinced:

  • It’s very popular with <people like you>
  • Most people agree…..
  • It’s all the rage with….

Resistance

If you’re still not getting your point across, explore their argument, but don’t comment on every point. One ploy is to say, ‘I understand,’ then make your case again. Make it seem that you agree with most of their arguments while gradually winning them over.

If they continue to resist, there may be hidden reasons they don’t want to admit. Tease out the real reason by asking questions such as:

  • Why?
  • Why not?
  • Is there another reason?

Keep asking and sooner or later they may run out of objections.

Integrity

You may think some of the above techniques manipulative but remember: the most important thing is to honour your integrity and respect the dignity of others.

Once you have lost your reputation for integrity, your credibility disappears with it.

©David Lawrence Preston, 2.7.2016

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