The Art of Persuasion

When was the last time you had to persuade someone? Regardless of your industry or profession, chances are you regularly have to persuade others to adopt your ideas. Whether you’re persuading a client to buy your product, your boss to give you a raise, your co-worker to give you a piece of that key project, or even your kids to clean their room, you often need others to see things your way.

And while research shows that most people believe they can’t be sold, the fact is that those same people can indeed be persuaded if they don’t recognize that a “sales” technique is being used. That’s why smart professionals today are using the art of persuasion, rather than sales, to get others to see things their way.

Realize that persuasion does not involve tricks, gimmicks, lying or anything unethical. When you use persuasion techniques, you are merely taking advantage of modern psychological research to make your message more credible and believable. For persuasion to truly work, whatever message you’re conveying must be based in truth and delivered with the right intentions. After all, you’re persuading someone to your point of view, not conning someone to do or think something questionable.

With that said, following are the persuasion principles that will give you an edge in getting others to adopt your ideas with ease:


1. Aim at a narrow target. When attempting to coax someone to adopt their ideas, many people do a data dump on their listener. They give every possible fact, figure and feature in hopes that some of the information will stick and persuade the other party. However, if you want to be effective at persuasion, then you need to keep your focus during the conversation as narrow as possible. So rather than talk about everything possible that might persuade the other person, find out what’s important to your listener and then persuade on those points only. The best way to uncover what’s important to the other person is to ask. That’s right…simply ask, “What’s important to you about… [insert whatever topic you’re addressing].” Then listen to what your listener says and speak only to those points.

If asking such a direct question doesn’t seem appropriate for your situation, you can couch your question within a statement, such as, “I was talking with someone the other day about [insert your topic], and they told me that _______ was the most important thing to them about [insert your topic]. That wouldn’t be important to you too, would it?” The result is that your statement could sound like: “I was talking with someone the other day about buying a car, and they told me that gas mileage was the most important thing they considered when purchasing a vehicle. That wouldn’t be important to you too, would it?” Allow the person to answer and give you the information you need. Then you can gauge how to direct your conversation based on their response.


2. Use stories to convey your message. Stories are an extremely effective way to persuade. However, many people are too obvious with their stories, and as a result it sounds like they’re giving a sales pitch. The best way to use stories as a persuasion tool is to simply tell your listener about something that is similar to your concept. For example, suppose you want to convey the idea that your product will give the person peace of mind. First, determine what that idea is like…what is similar to having peace of mind? You may decide that “relaxation” is similar to the concept of peace of mind. If so, what conjures up images of relaxation to you? To this you might reply that a day at the beach equates to relaxation. If so, then tell a story about a day at the beach. The person’s unconscious mind will draw the necessary connections and do your persuasion for you.


                    “So rather than talk about everything possible that might persuade the other person,
                    find out what’s important to your listener and then persuade on those points only.”



Let’s say you’re trying to motivate your staff to try something new and you want to convey the idea of being open to discovering new ideas. What is that idea like? What is similar to discovering new ideas? For many, it’s similar to being surprised. So then, what else elicits a surprise? How about opening a gift? Tell a story about that. The point is to pinpoint what you want to convey, decide what that idea is like, determine what else is like that main idea, and then tell a story about the similar concept, idea or thing. This indirect approach works wonders and keeps people from feeling like they are being sold.


3. Use a quote. Sometimes you may have to tell people bad news in order to get them to see things your way. If you don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, you could use a quote to tell the news for you. For example, you could tell a client, “I was talking with Joe Smith the other day and he said that ABC Company has trouble making deliveries on time.”

Another example would be to say, “My father always used to tell me ___________,” and then tell them what you want to tell them. Who could argue with your father? The only caveat is that you cannot use this technique to say something that is not true. The goal is to deliver truthful news or make a point in a way that doesn’t reflect poorly on you or make you appear insincere.


4. Use pacing and leading to prove your point. Pacing and leading is a technique based on the proven idea that if the brain can verify two things as true, it will accept the third fact as being true also. So if you tell someone, “My name is Mary Jones and I’m with Acme Corporation,” the listener’s mind can quickly verify those two facts as true. Then whatever you say next, such as, “We have the lowest prices on your office supply needs,” rings true to the listener as well. Again, you cannot use this technique to say something false. Whatever your third piece of information is, it must be a reasonable fact. 


A Slight Edge Yields Huge Rewards
None of these persuasion techniques are magic or “smoke and mirrors.” They are designed merely to give you a slight edge in your dealings with others, but a slight edge can make all of the difference in the world.

After all, in the Olympics, the difference between those who win the gold and those who win the silver is often just a few hundredths of a second or a fraction of a point. A slight edge goes a long way. So arm yourself with these persuasion tools and make them a part of your everyday conversations with others. When you do, you’ll find that others are more apt to adopt your ideas, resulting in more winning solutions for everyone involved. 


Paul Endress is an entrepreneur, communication expert and president of the consulting firm Maximum Advantage in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Reach him at www.paulendress.com. A former Toastmaster, he will present a session on this topic at the International Convention in Calgary on August 14.

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