How To Persuade People
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The art and science of persuading people is a must for many jobs and activities, from sales and marketing to social activism and politics. We all want our words to have weight and others to take them seriously. Maybe you want to persuade someone that your product is the best for their needs. Perhaps you’re asking your boss for a raise. Or maybe you’re trying to convince that person you’ve been dreaming about to date you. Whatever your goals, the art of persuasion is something that all of us can get better at.
Making your point heard and, better yet, persuading people to adopt your point of view is not a skill that most of us are born with. The good news is that persuasion can be learned and perfected with practice and attention.
Tips for being more persuasive
Learning to be persuasive is not a skill that most people can pick up overnight. It requires time, patience, and repetition. However, there are several things you can do to help you hone your persuasion skills. We’ll focus on a few of these…
1. Exude confidence.
A confident demeanor draws people in. According to a study by the University of Leicester in England, confidence is the single most significant behavioral difference between those who are successful at persuasion and those who aren’t. Don Moore of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh puts it another way. He says, “Humans prefer cockiness to expertise.” Listeners tend to associate confidence with expertise, so the more sure you are of yourself, the more you will be taken seriously.
Projecting confidence throughout your entire appeal is vital to the success of your request. It’s nearly impossible for listeners to distinguish between a person acting confident and one feeling confident. The good news is that confidence is a skill you can “fake until you make it.” Being secure gives you the impression that your plan, proposal, or solution is a good idea. After all, who would want to buy a product that the salesperson herself doesn’t endorse? One caveat about confidence: there’s a fine line between being confident and arrogant, which will likely turn your listeners away. Make sure you know where that line is and stay on the safe side of it.
2. Stick with logic.
Logic trumps emotions almost always in the art of persuasion. The Conflict Research Consortium at the University of Colorado explains it this way. “Persuasion is convincing an opponent to change their beliefs and behavior through moral or logical argument (rather than force). When someone is persuaded to do something, they do it because they have come to believe it is the right or best thing to do.”
In sales, being logical can show the customers how a product might help them solve a problem. In our example of asking for a raise, logic might translate into showing your boss what you’ve done to deserve more money (and how you’ve been making money for her).
You’ve probably heard the adage, “you become like the five people you spend the most time with.” It’s also true that the way people perceive you, your expertise, and your trustworthiness correlates to the people you associate with. To make yourself more persuasive, look at the people around you. Are they honest, positive, and logical souls? Or are they hostile, argumentative, and prone to espousing conspiracy theories? You’ll gain an immediate boost in your authority by choosing more of the former than the latter.
4. Show the value on your side.
One of the most effective ways to persuade someone is to show the value of your point of view. Translated, that means telling them what’s in it for them. For example, you might ask a friend to drive you to the car dealer to pick up your car. He might be hesitant because he’s tired or has many chores on his schedule. You might persuade him by telling him you’ll take him to dinner (or lunch) after you’ve got your car.
5. Remember that words count.
The art of persuasion depends on choosing your words carefully. This isn’t the time to trot out your most famous vocabulary words. Neither do you want to use vague terms, like “good” or “nice”? Instead, use words that convey your meaning without seeming arrogant or talking down to the other person. Some words carry more weight than others. Copywriters have understood this for more than a century. That’s why you see so many ads that use words like “free,” “easy,” “guarantee,” and “love.” Being an effective communicator, and thus a persuasive person means choosing your words to best match your audience.
6. Use flattery sparingly.
Almost everyone is susceptible to flattery, so it can be a good (if somewhat cheap) tool when persuading someone. You don’t want to be too obvious as this can have the opposite result and make the other person resistant to anything you might ask. The best strategy is to flatter the other person subtly. Make sure that your comment is related, at least loosely, to your request. For example, you don’t want to compliment your boss on her new dress and then ask for the afternoon off. (Not subtle, even if you do like her dress.)
7. Give it enough time.
Understandably, you want to know what the other person will say to your request as soon as possible, but hurrying the persuasion process is likely to ensure that the answer will be “no.” Rushing through your request or presentation makes it seem that you’re not prepared to listen to the other person’s questions or concerns and are only thinking about yourself. Better to be patient and take time to listen to the other person.
If the answer is no, ensure you leave a sufficient amount of time before you ask again. And, whatever you do, don’t resort to pleading, begging, or groveling. Not only are these behaviors ineffective, but they can also be demeaning.
8. Seek that common ground.
Another great persuasion tool is to get the person you’re trying to persuade to agree with you on something before you attempt to state your case. In sales, that might mean asking prospective customers if they think the product is a good value (assuming that it IS a good value) before trying to close the sale. Interestingly, the point you agree on doesn’t have to be on the same topic you’re trying to persuade your audience. One somewhat dated but relevant research study showed people a car ad following a political ad for then-presidential candidate Barack Obama. Another group saw an ad for presidential candidate John McCain before the car ad. Republicans tended to respond more favorably to the car ad after the McCain ad, whereas democrats responded more favorably to the car ad after the Obama commercial.
9. Point out the gap in their argument.
People don’t like having holes in their logic pointed out. So, you’ll have to tread a little carefully here. Still, illuminating the gap between what they tell a friend to do and what they might do themselves can help persuade them. For example, maybe you are offering a food delivery service. Younger potential customers might not see the value in the service, even in this pandemic atmosphere. They might say they aren’t worried about eating inside a restaurant and don’t need their meals to be delivered to their home. However, if you ask them what they would recommend for their parents or grandparents, a logic gap will likely become apparent. Many of us are prone to thinking, “do what I say, not what I do.” When that disconnect is brought to their attention (nicely), they will likely be much more likely to see the value in the delivery service.
Harvard Business Review shares an example from Thailand, where the government used this approach to dissuade citizens from smoking. HBR writes, “rather than telling smokers their habit was bad, they had little kids come up to smokers on the street and ask them for a light. Not surprisingly, the smokers told the kids no. Many even lectured the little boys and girls about the dangers of smoking. But before turning to walk away, the kids handed the smokers a note that said, “You worry about me … But why not about yourself?” At the bottom was a toll-free number smokers could call to get help. Calls to that line jumped more than 60% during the campaign.”
10. Make sure to ask questions.
No one likes to be lectured to. Even the lecturer can get tired of their voice. A more effective approach to persuasion is to get the listener involved by asking questions that require more than a “yes” or “no” answer. Using another public service example, one US state asks its residents, “Do you think junk food is good for you?” rather than telling them outright that fast food and snacks weren’t the healthiest food choices. Once the listener admits that junk food isn’t good for them, they have a stake in the discussion and are much more likely to be persuaded to try a healthier diet.
When you ask questions, the listener is forced to engage with you. After all, they have to pose their answers. They can’t just stare off into space anymore.
11. Consider asking for less.
This is a classic sales technique. With it, the salesperson talks up the luxury product to get the potential customer to agree to the product’s benefits and value and is met with resistance when it comes time to close the sale. Rather than give up, the salesperson asks for less. This might mean asking the customer to buy a face cleanser instead of the entire skincare set…or a single, leather-bound book instead of the whole group. The “lesser” items still have the same benefits and values; however, they are less expensive, the part of the equation that caused the potential customer to balk at a sale.
An even better approach is to ask for less initially and then build on the sale once the customer is committed and “in your court.” In the sales example, you’d talk up the face cleanser and its benefits and then suggest the entire set once the customer said they’d like to buy it.
12. Don’t underestimate the power of the pause.
Silence is powerful. Pauses and brief silences in a discussion give it rhythm and force the other person to engage with you. Do you know how awkward that silence can get in the car or on a first date when no one says anything? It’s almost impossible not to just into silence with the first thing that comes into your head. Persuasion is like that, too. Your audience will jump to fill in the quiet and, thus, become more engaged in the discussion. To be effective at persuasion, you must learn how to harness its power.
Persuading people online
Persuading people online can be a little more challenging than convincing them in person. After all, you lose any facial expressions, tone changes, or body language. When stating your case online, you only have your words…and maybe a few favorite emojis. However, just because persuading people online is more challenging doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Consider the following tips when you are working online. (Note: most of these tips will also work when communicating with people in person.)
1. Balance your arguments.
When you only have your words to persuade your audience, you need to make every one of them count. If there are two clear sides to your argument, resist the temptation to gloss over the other side and only present your side of the story. It may seem counterintuitive, but giving a balanced view of both sides of the argument can help your case. Extensive studies over the years prove this point. Daniel O’Keefe at the University of Illinois compiled the results of 107 studies on “sidedness” and persuasion conducted over 50 years, including 20,111 participants. He writes, “The results of this compilation found that across different types of persuasive messages and with varied audiences, two-sided arguments are more persuasive than their one-sided equivalents.”
2. Make it personal.
If someone’s air conditioning isn’t keeping up with the summer heat, they are more likely to be persuaded to purchase a new cooling system. People who see themselves in your scenario are much more likely to be influenced. Maybe that’s seeing themselves sitting in a brand new Camaro or having that dinner you promised your friend after she drove you to the auto mechanic to pick up your car, and making it personal can also be damaging. Similarly, a 2011 study looked for a correlation between the current weather and how likely people were to donate money to help curb global warming. The survey of US and Australian participants found that the charity received much more money on hot days than when the weather was cool and comfortable.
3. Keep it positive.
Persuasive arguments have a slight advantage over those framed in the negative, according to at least one compilation of research studies. These studies had to do with encouraging people to wear sunscreen and adopt healthier eating habits. The authors concluded that a positive approach was more effective since people don’t like to be bullied into changing their behavior. However, this way of framing your argument applies to most topics (mild) swearing.
Swearing a little, such as using damn, helps your readers to see how passionate you are about your subject. One recent study shows that mild swearing increases the effectiveness of your argument by as much as 30 percent. However, make sure you leave the swearing benign. Getting too carried away and using heavy swearing can rob you of your credibility and make you appear unhinged.
5. Benefits trump features.
This is true with any persuasion, but it’s especially true when you write online. You want your argument to play to the emotions of your reader. Benefits, such as why your company’s moisturizer will make the person look and feel younger, are much more exciting than the list of ingredients in the same product. Quicksprout explains in their article, “19 Copywriting Strategies to Persuade Your Readers”, “Benefits sell the product and give customers a reason to buy; features explain clearly what they’ll receive by using your product and give customers something to compare against the competition. Features are still needed, but they’re not the primary selling point”. We couldn’t agree more.
6. Be specific.
When you have facts and data to use, it’s much easier to persuade someone. Rather than saying something like, “You’ll double your monthly sales by using our product,” say instead, “Our customers have averaged a 51% increase in sales by using our product”. It’s much less vague and gives your argument a lot more credibility.
The art of persuasion isn’t something you can expect to do perfectly on the first attempt. However, with practice and by using one or more of our tips, you should be able to share your ideas effectively, become a successful salesperson and be assertive in the workplace without antagonizing those around you or, conversely, feeling like the world is taking advantage of you. We wish you good luck!