How often have you needed to persuade others to do something?
It's a situation that arises almost every day, whether it's getting your teenager to tidy their room, or your preschooler to get dressed, or a colleague to attend a meeting on your behalf. Some people seem to be able to do it effortlessly, and almost without anyone noticing, whereas others fall back on the power of their position to enforce what they want.
Persuasion skills can be learnt just like any others, and they are a key part of being able to influence others to achieve your goals and objectives.
Ways to Influence and Persuade
We all know people who aim to persuade by talking constantly. They seem to think they can grind others into submission, by simply reiterating their point of view constantly. This, basically, is nagging. And it does sometimes work, of course, because their colleagues or family give in solely to get some peace. But as a general rule, others persuaded in this way probably haven't bought into the idea, and are not committed to it.
This means that when the going gets tough, the idea could easily just wither and die.
Others fall back on the power of their position, and order others to do what they want. This, in its most unpleasant sense, is coercion. Again, their family or colleagues won't necessarily like what they're doing. If it's hard, they may well give up. More orders will be issued, to rescue the idea, but again, may be unsuccessful, because those involved are doing it because they have to, not because they want to.
A Better Way
The ‘Holy Grail' of persuasion, then, is to get others to buy into the idea, and want to do it your way. And the best way of doing that is in a way that others don't notice. But how?
The fable of the sun and the wind is a good example:
The wind and the sun decided to have a competition to decide once and for all who was stronger. They agreed that the winner would be the one who could persuade a man to take off his coat. The wind blew and blew, but the man only held on more tightly to his coat. Then the sun shone gently down, and within minutes, the man took off his coat.
The moral here is that you can't force someone to do what they don't want; instead, the art of persuasion is to get them to want what you want.
Consider this example of a group of students choosing a leader for a group task.
The group had agreed on the ideal type of person, and there were two obvious candidates within the group, Sue and Steven.
Sue suggested that Steven should take on the task, and he accepted happily. Decision made. Everyone smiled, except for one member of the group, John.
John, who had until that moment been silent, said: “Steven, don't forget to let us know what you want us to do to help. With your new job, you're going to have a lot on, and you'll need to make sure you get us organised or we won't get it all done.”
Steven looked thoughtful, and then said, “You know, on reflection, I'm not sure I've got time to do this as well as starting my new job. I have got a lot on, as you say. Maybe it would be better if Sue did it.”
Everyone looked at Sue, who said that she would take it on if the group wanted. They all agreed that would be best.
Sue later asked John privately why he had intervened when the group had already decided on a leader. He said that he thought she would do it better than Steven, and get a better result for the group.
In this example, John had used his persuasion skills very subtly to get what he wanted, and created a win-win situation from a potentially unpleasant conversation.
Steven was happy that the group had acknowledged his skills, and equally happy that he wasn't leading the task.
In fact, at the end, he wanted Sue to lead it, without John ever having to risk upsetting him by saying that he thought Sue would be better.
Barriers to Successful Persuasion
One way to think about what works in persuading others is to think about what doesn't work first.
In his book Persuasion IQ, Kurt Mortensen lists ten obstacles to successful persuasion:
- Thinking that you are better at persuasion than you are, and therefore failing to hone your skills. Instead, take a long, hard look at yourself, and see where your skills need to be improved.
- Trying too hard to persuade. Seeming too keen probably puts people off faster than anything else.
- Failing to put in the effort required to get what you want. Nothing, or at least not much, is free in this world.
- Talking too much. Stop, and just listen to the people you need to persuade.
- Providing too much information, which just confuses people, and makes them think you are trying to blind them with science. What, they ask, are you not telling them?
- Getting desperate. Like insincerity, people can spot fear at a distance, and don't like it.
- Being afraid of rejection. This can even stop people from trying to persuade in extreme cases.
- Not being prepared. You can't ‘wing it' every time. Your audience will see through you, and will think that you value your time more highly than theirs.
- Making assumptions about your audience, and then not being prepared to reassess when new evidence emerges.
- Forgetting that the whole conversation is important. You need to engage in order to persuade, right from the beginning.
Research shows that successful persuaders have many advantages.
Kurt Mortensen's research shows that these factors are largely emotional.
These qualities include keeping your promises, being trustworthy and accountable, being sincere, honest, understanding their subject, believing in it, building rapport, being helpful, and not arguing and providing effective solutions.
The key skills to successfully persuade others, then, are quite broad. First, successful persuaders generally have high self-esteem and good emotional security. They really believe they will succeed.
You also need to stay motivated and believe in yourself and what you think.
In addition, you need to understand how your audience thinks.
Key skills here include empathy and good listening skills, including active listening.
If you listen, your audience usually tells you what they're thinking and what they're thinking.
This also helps to build rapport;
People like people who take the time to be friends and influential.
In fact, if we were honest, we would rather be friends than someone we don't like, no matter how wise the idea is.
Building a rapport also helps build trust, and to learn more about building trust, check out our Personal Empowerment page.
A good persuader or influencer also has good communication skills.
It is important to express your views concisely and effectively, otherwise you will never be able to convince anyone of the merits of your position.
The last skill of a good persuader is organization.
They do their homework, they know their audience, they know their subjects.
They take the time to organize themselves and think about what they want to achieve.
To learn more, check out our pages on organizational skills, strategic thinking, and action plans.