The great nineteenth-century preacher, Lyman Beecher, called persuasion “logic on fire.” That is the essence of what the persuader ties to communicate. People need to be appealed to on a rational basis, giving them justification for their beliefs, but they must also be given an inspiring goal or example to motivate them in the direction you intend.
A good example of this process is a trial lawyer’s summation to the jury. He carefully and logically builds a case on the evidence, and then
describes the evidence in human terms, trying to create an emotional attachment between the jury and his client. He often ends with a passion-filled plea for justice, using words that convey innocence, fairness, and other strong emotions. Should the logical evidence, the emotional appeal, or the passion be missing, chances are that the jury will not be persuaded.
A persuader helps people to define the number of viable choices available to them. He or she accomplishes this by helping them to eliminate undesirable choices. Because people need this service, they will listen to you and be persuaded to your point of view if you are skilled at presenting and clarifying their choices.
WAYS TO INCREASE YOUR PERSUASIVE POWER
Here are some ways to be more persuasive in everyday situations.
- Use the home-turf advantage. Suppose that you are going to have a talk with a neighbor whose tree overhangs your backyard. Should you go to his house or invite him to yours? Many people can be more relaxed and persuasive in their own surroundings than in someone else’s. That’s why a good negotiator always strives to have important meetings held in his office. Research shows that this technique really does work.
Two psychologists at Johns Hopkins University rated sixty students for dominance – the ability to influence others. Then they divided the students into groups of three. Each group had one member low in dominance, one average, and one high. The students were then asked to discuss and agree on which of ten potential universities budget cuts would be best. Half of the groups met in rooms of their
most dominant member, and half in the rooms of the least dominant. On the average, the guests’ views came around to the host’s point of view, even if the host was low in dominance and the guests opposed them at the onset. When you can’t hold a meeting in your home or office, look for neutral ground so that the other side won’t have the home-turf advantage.
- Identify with your listener. Whenever your goal is to persuade others, you must phrase your appeal in terms of their self-interests. People are not “driven” by persuasion; they are “won” by it. They are drawn, through their own desires, to satisfy their own needs. What you want to accomplish is certainly of interest of you, but probably not to them. They are primarily interested in what they want, so make sure your interests coincide with theirs.
As a start, make them like you personally. They should feel that you are a part of them, that you share their interests and beliefs. They should be able to identify with you and respect you, even as they sense your respect for them.
You will be more persuasive if you show yourself to be a person more similar to them than different, making them comfortable with you on the basis of shared beliefs and outlook. Keep in mind, though, that this is a matter of emphasis and is not a call for deception. Nor should it be seen as a lack of true conviction; if this were the case, you would not be able to effectively persuade others to follow your lead. The politician uses this tactic of emphasis quite effectively: before a labor audience, he is Mr. Labor; before a business audience, he couldn’t be more conservative.
There is a human tendency to believe what someone who is “one of us” says. For example, a brewmaster may be able to tell you lots of
reasons why one brand of beer is better than another, but your friends – whether they are knowledgeable or not – will probably have a bigger influence on which brand you choose.
There’s more to it than that, of course. A California psychologist conducted some interesting research. He found those top salespeople “match the tone of voice, volume, rhythm and speech of the customer and mirror their body language, posture and mood. Unconsciously they may even breathe in and out with him. (He even has videotape to prove it!) In essence, the best salespeople act as sophisticated biofeedback mechanisms, sending back the same signals the customer is sending to them. For years therapists have been trained to alter their behavior and level of language sophistication to create a comfort zone for their client. This is not an act of insincerity but rather an adaptability to make the client feel more at ease. Again, it is important to identify with your listener.
- Reflect the listener’s experience. Mediocre persuaders jump right into their argument; skilled persuaders first create trust and show empathy. If the other person indicates that he’s worried about something, the persuader who says, “I understand why you feel that way. I would too,” is showing respect for the other person’s feelings and will gain that listener’s attention. One of the most powerful persuasion techniques consists of three short sentences. They are: “I understand how you feel. I used to feel that way too”; and “then I realized that….” And here you present your new point of view.
A good persuader will reflect, not rebuff the other person’s objections to his argument. The skilled persuader restates the objection, allows that it has merit, and only then goes on to show that his own ideas are more cogent. One top insurance agent will readily agree with a customer that life insurance is a terrible
investment. Having disarmed the customer and having his total attention, the agent then demonstrates that insurance has a different purpose than investing – that it’s a way of protecting against catastrophe, a way of making up for savings or investments one doesn’t have. Several studies have shown that when a presentation looks at both sides before coming to the conclusion, it seems more persuasive than one that offers view of only one side.
- Make a strong case. You will increase your persuasiveness if you give your listeners solid information instead of just opinion. When doing so, keep in mind that people who are uncommitted can be as much influenced by the source of the facts as by the facts themselves. In one study at Yale University, two groups of ten volunteers each heard the same factual argument in favor of selling antihistamines without a prescription. One group was given a fictional source called The New England Journal of Biology and Medicine and was persuaded much more easily than the other group, which had been told that the source was a popular pictorial magazine.
It’s not simply that people trust some sources and mistrust others. Rather, when they hear strong, highly credible authorities cited, they’re far less likely to defend their preconceptions against new ideas and information. A word of caution: Don’t overdo citing experts. Too much information may make the listener confused.
- Employ stories and examples. Suppose you’re trying to sell your car to a stranger. Which will be more persuasive, the national figures on gas mileage for your model, or the mileage you got on a trip last weekend?
Great persuaders have always known that we are more easily influenced by examples and personal experiences than we are by summarized evidence and general principles. A doctor once advised a friend of mine to take a certain drug for a minor medical problem. My friend asked if it was dangerous. The doctor then outlined the evidence, and my friend felt reassured. Then the doctor added “I take it myself,” and my friend was persuaded.
FOCUS ON THE FACTS
Once you have the attention and trust of your listeners, and they are convinced that what you say really matters to them, you will need to build a solid, logical base for your viewpoint. If your listeners are favorable to your view, your communication should be specific and of a motivational nature. In this instance you should verify what they already consider in some vague way to be true, to bring a passive belief up to the level of an active commitment. Review the arguments in favor of the view that you share, thus reinforcing your listener’s beliefs and giving them solid reasons to believe something that previously may have been only a vague feeling.
If your listeners are opposed to your view, be less specific than it they were favorable or neutral. Lead them back to basic principles and establish a ground of common agreement – even if it is only the agreement that there is a problem that must be solved. Your goal is to open their minds at least enough to consider what you have to say. Thus your thrust should be to reduce the confrontation by focusing on the facts that are indisputable, and basic views that are common to both views.
DEALING WITH EMOTIONAL COMMITMENT
People usually have an emotional commitment to their own views and often see an argument against these beliefs as a personal attack. Remember that persuasion is not argumentative. It does not try to batter down the opposition. Rather, as its Latin origin suggests, it is convincing “by sweetness.” Try to direct the listener’s attention away from their “rightness” and toward a consideration of whether or not the facts are correct.
If your listeners are neutral or apathetic, your first job is to convince them that the subject really affects them. If you are confronting a problem, show how this problem relates to their lives and interests. After you have established the importance of the problem, present the possible solutions, with arguments for or against each one. Explain the impact of each solution and demonstrate why yours is best. You will generally be more effective if you present your side first, dispose of any major counter-arguments, and then conclude with a summarized statement of your viewpoint.
USING PROPS TO INCREASE YOUR PERSUASIVE ABILITY
Great persuaders often use anecdotes, charts, graphs, or concrete examples to make their view even more attractive. One father was having a discussion with his son about the importance of staying in college. The son was considering dropping out in order to become a ski instructor and he enthusiastically told of all the fun he would have, though he did admit that he would have to live at a subsistence level for several years until he developed a clientele. The father, realizing that logical points on the long-term advantages of education would not be heard because of his son’s level of enthusiasm for the ski-instructor
idea, instead wrote two checks to his son. The first was made out for
$250,000. As he handed it to his son he explained that this is what he could expect to earn in the next thirty years without a degree in a salable field. The father then handed the son the second check, which was filled out for $500,000. The father said, “This is what you’ll have to share with your family for the next thirty years if you finish your degree and work first. Can you really ask your future wife and kids to make that kind of sacrifice so you can have a few extra months of skiing?” The boy sat quietly for a few minutes then decided to postpone working as ski instructor until after he graduated some eighteen months later. He later said that he couldn’t get the difference in earnings out of his mind. The visual impact was just too great.
HOW VISUAL IMPACT CAN HELP YOU
It is said that the visual impact of television is so great that it obscures what is being said. Yet the impact of television is but a pale imitation of what the mind can produce when a person’s imagination is turned loose.
When conducting psychotherapy with clients who are distressed about their feelings or behavior, I virtually always have them relax with me – often using hypnosis – and the I have them picture the kind of person they want to become. Visualizing what one wants to become is a powerful motivating factor in actually working to reach the goal. You can also use this guided-imagery technique to help your listeners formulate a better mental picture of how payoffs will personally benefit them when they accept your idea. What you succeed in getting a person to bring forth in his mind (through your words) will most likely make the difference between his agreeing with you or refusing to cooperate. Not until he pictures himself enjoying the rewards and anticipating how the will feel when it happens will he be seriously interested.
ASK OTHERS TO TAKE ACTION
It would be foolish for someone to present a persuasive conversation, to go through the tension and uncertainty and not ask the listener to take action. Yet it happens all the time. One research study that followed more than a dozen salesmen for two weeks found an amazing problem. The researchers discovered that on more than 65% of their calls, the salesmen did not ask them their potential customers to buy their products. They quoted facts and figures, they displayed samples and charts, and they related warmly to their potential customers.
But they never took out their order pad and actually asked how many of the product the customer would like to have. Thus their effectiveness was compromised.
Many of us do the same thing, and the people we talk to go away from us wondering what the purpose of our discussions was. We do this to avoid being rejected. If we don’t ask, we aren’t rejected. We would rather not have what another wants than be rejected. What you need to do is to realize that rejections, which will occur less and less frequently when you use the techniques we have discussed, are really rejections of concepts and ideas, not of you. If you separate people’s refusals from you as an individual, those refusals will be easier to accept.
Work the percentages, but stack the odds in your favor by knowing what you are asking for, when to ask for it and making it easy to picture the benefits you are offering. If you have used this process correctly, you have usually made a friend of your listener. At the very least, this new relationship will leave the door open for a future time when you can ask for cooperation once more.
Few people are won over to an important commitment in a single meeting or discussion. They need time to accept your personality pattern to get past any lack of rapport caused by personality conflict. They need to trust you and to think through the ramifications of your offer. Also, most people fear making a mistake. You can use the technique given here only when you see that your listener is visualizing the rewards and is making commitment statements. To act too soon is to turn him off. To act too late is to miss the tide of his emotions.
When a person nods in agreement, smiles and leans forward as if reaching for something, or acknowledges that the cooperation would please him, make it easy for him to accept your offer and hard for him to reject it. Remember the words: Expect, Clarify, and Confirm. You expect that he is intelligent enough to see the benefits of acting in his own best interest. You clarify his understanding and resolve any lingering doubts about the importance of acting now. And you confirm the value of the mutual payoff and his acceptance of it.
When you are convinced that the resolution you recommend is the one you would want for yourself if the situation were reversed, your conviction will be seen through your nonverbal communication. When you know it’s the right thing to do and the listener is agreeing with you, anticipate that his decision is going to be the same as yours and act accordingly. Because you have paid your emotional dues to him while discovering his needs and problems, talked about resolutions and payoffs, checked to see that he understands the advantages of cooperation, and the reward is appealing to him, you have earned the right to advise him. In his mind he has seen what can happen, and he assumes that you’ll go ahead and ask for his commitment. He does not
feel that he has lost control but compelled to submit or to make an eternal choice but to choose in a minor way with a supportive friend.
In the past, persuasiveness seemed to be a mysterious and personal gift. Today we know that it is largely the result of certain communication skills and techniques that can be learned. To convince yourself of this, just apply what you have read and see what happens.
FIVE ACTION STEPS FOR USING THE ADVANCED SUPER PERSUASION TECHNIQUES
- Gain the home-turf advantage. Schedule meetings in your home or office, or if that’s not possible, choose a neutral site so that the other side does not have the home-turf advantage.
- Look you best. Your appearance and grooming add or subtract from your credibility and the level of confidence that you exude. Other people are more likely to accept the ideas of people who have taken the time to make themselves attractive.
- Identify with your listener and reflect the listener’s experience. The good persuader does not argue but agrees and guides the thinking of the listener to another alternative. Try this example: With your hand, push very strongly against the hand of a friend. Now release the force and tension; pressing lightly, merely guide your friend’s hand in a circular motion. This is the secret to effective persuasion.
- Present a strong case using both a rational and logical justification and a strong emotional appeal or inspiring goal. Support your case with stories, examples, personal insights and experiences, and visualizations of the expected rewards and results.
- Ask for support and action. When you have presented a strong case and are convinced that the resolution you recommend is the one you would want for yourself, if the situation was reversed, trust that your listener’s decision is going to be the same and act accordingly. Finally, get a firm commitment for active participation.
The ability to persuade is the basis of the ability to lead. Learning the techniques of how to persuade others to believe you, to follow you, and to help you will give you more powerful qualities of leadership and make your ideas irresistible.