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 pre-schooler 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:
Research shows that there are a number of things that people like about successful persuaders.
Kurt Mortensen’s research suggests that these elements are largely emotional. They include keeping promises, being reliable and taking responsibility, being sincere, genuine, and honest, knowing their subject, and believing in it, building rapport, and being entertaining, as well as not arguing and providing solutions that work.
The key skills for successful persuasion, then, are pretty wide. First of all, successful persuaders tend to have high self-esteem and good Emotional Intelligence more generally. They really believe that they will succeed.
You also need to remain motivated and believe in yourself and your ideas. See our pages on Self-motivation for more.
Additionally, 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 will usually tell you what and how they are thinking. It also helps to be able to build rapport; people like those who take time to become a friend, as well as an influencer. It follows, really: if we’re honest, we’d all much rather do what a friend suggests than someone we dislike, however sensible the idea. Building rapport also helps to build trust, and for more about building trust, have a look at our page on Personal Empowerment.
Good persuaders or influencers also have very good Communication Skills.
It’s essential that you can get your point across succinctly and effectively, otherwise you’re never going to persuade anyone of the merits of your position.
The final skill of good persuaders is being organised. They do their homework, they know their audience and they know their subject. They have taken time to organise themselves and think about what they want to achieve. For more about this, take a look at our pages on Organisation Skills, Strategic Thinking and Action Planning.
It takes time, but develop these skills, and you will start to develop ‘authentic power’, which means that you have power because people believe in what you’re saying. Once you have that, you are likely to be much more successful in persuading and influencing others, whether at home or at work.