The Extraordinary Power of Persuasion

“He who influences the thought of his times influences the times that follow.” Elbert Hubbard

When you get right down to it, you probably want a bit more power and influence. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a parent or a politician, a manager or an employee, you want other people to listen to you. You want other people to accept your views and support your causes.

Interestingly enough, there is a ton of research on how that can be done. It’s called the field of persuasion. In fact, I used to teach ten and fifteen week courses at the university on that very topic.

And today I offer half and full-day seminars on “Cooperation and Conflict: Working Together Instead of Coming Apart.” Call me at 1-800-621-7881 and we can see if this might be a good program for your next meeting.

So there’s a lot to learn about what works and doesn’t work in persuasion. Here are a few tips to get you started.

=> 1. Arrange For Positive Transfer.

The surroundings of a persuasive message can make a difference. So carefully select the setting of your message.

Take the President, any President, as an example. As he delivers a message from the Oval Office, you’ll notice the American flag behind his desk, and you’ll see pictures of his wife and kids on the desk. He knows that people will be more open to his ideas if they perceive him as a “good American” and a “nice family man.”

=> 2. Praise Generously.

People like to be liked. The great salesman Ivar Krueger said, “You can flatter someone until you are ashamed of yourself but never enough to make him ashamed of himself.”

I’m not suggesting that you give insincere praise. No. Don’t ever do that. Just tell the other person what you like about him or her. Give accurate, honest praise, and you’ll find the other person is a lot more open to your ideas.

=> 3. Do A Favor.

It helps if you give before you try to get. That’s why, years ago, the Fuller Brush man used to go door-to-door giving away free brushes to the people he met. And that’s why smart salespeople try to help their prospects before they try to sell them. They’re building a relationship of give and take.

When the other person accepts your sample or help, he feels a bit more obligated to return the favor. He feels like he should buy something — or, at the very least, listen to what you have to say.

=> 4. Ask Short-Response Questions.

Too many persuaders fail to get feedback as to how their message is being received. They don’t know if they’re being understood, and they don’t know if they’re proceeding too rapidly or too slowly. They don’t even know if their proposal is being seen as attractive or unattractive.

You’ve got to get some feedback on your ideas while you’re sharing your ideas. You’ve got to know how you’re doing before you’re all finished. It’s the only way you can adjust your approach to ensure your success.

So ask simple questions throughout your presentation. Ask such things as, “Is this clear? Am I making sense? Are you with me? Does this seem fair?” If all is going well, the answers will be quick and affirmative. If not, the answers will be hesitant, grudgingly affirmative, or openly negative.

=> 5. Don’t Ask “If.” Ask “Which.”

Give your listener a choice between something and something else, never a choice between something and nothing. If you offer the persuadee a choice between two alternatives, she will direct her attention to the best alternative. If you only offer a single possibility, she will think in terms of accepting or rejecting that possibility.

During the Depression, Walgreen’s tried to sell customers on having an egg in their malted milk for an extra five cents. Walgreen’s instructed their soda clerks to ask, “Would you like one or two eggs in your malt?” The startled customer would choose the cheaper alternative and say “one,” and Walgreen’s sold millions of eggs in their malts.

=> 6. Get A Series Of “Yes” Responses.

Carefully plan out a series of questions to which your persuadee will answer “Yes.” Start with some simple questions that will get easy “Yes” responses. Keep at it. Once the other person is used to agreeing with you, he’s more likely to say “Yes” when you get to your big, important, closing question.

One of my workshop participants, a skeptical IBM engineer, said the technique was too simple to be effective, but she decided to try it. She prepared ten yes-response questions to use in her conversation with a car salesman. The salesman said “Yes” to all ten questions. When she asked, “Will you take $10,000 less for the car?” he answered “Yes” and then added, “My gosh, what have I done?”

=> 7. Use The Bandwagon Technique.

Many people have a herding instinct. They want to be a part of a current trend. If you can show that your proposal is becoming the thing to do, you will reduce the persuadee’s resistance.

=> 8. Reassure The Persuadee.

After you’ve influenced or changed someone’s attitude, opinion, or behavior, you should reinforce that change. Tell him that he made a good choice, and tell him how he will be better off with his new belief, action, or possession.

If you don’t do that, the persuadee’s attitude may regress to his original position, the one he had before you persuaded him. And that doesn’t serve either one of you very well.

Words can be powerful and persuasive — when you know how to use them. So don’t wing it. Learn how to influence others for the better, and you’ll be better off as well.

Action:  Don’t try to implement all 8 of today’s persuasion techniques. Chances are you wouldn’t be very effective. Pick one to practice and master. Try it a few different times. Watch for the response you get. And modify your use of the technique until it really works for you. Then go on to another one of the 8 techniques.