On an otherwise routine Monday in 1994, I witnessed a remarkable demonstration of persuasion.
I was a stockbroker trainee on Wall Street at the time. On a typical Monday, my boss’s nail technician would come to the office for his weekly manicure/pedicure. I sat at a desk across from his, and thankfully I faced a wall.
But on this day, with his nail tech doing her thing, he commanded me to turn and look at him. He wanted to train me.
“I can persuade anyone,” he said in his thick Brooklyn accent. “Listen.”
With the speakerphone blaring, he finessed his way past the receptionist and assistant, and finally landed the prospect. And then he patiently endured a tirade of foul-mouthed language. “Now, I’ll turn him,” he said after muting the phone.
And he did. He then repeated his success on two more people, generating sales that totaled tens of thousands of dollars.
With his nail technician now working on his feet, he said, “That paid my rent.”
Years later, I found a mentor who followed the same principles but without the theatrics. In fact, he was a quiet person like me. He proved that you don’t need flashy charisma or charm to master the art of persuasion. You only need to learn and practice the principles.
And if you’re worried about being manipulative, that’s a good thing. Keep your intent honorable and be honest. Above all, remember that it’s your job to help the other person change their mind, not to decide for them.
These five techniques may surprise you. Some contradict conventional wisdom, but the best persuaders follow them diligently.
1. Get them to say “no”
There’s a mindset out there that you must get people to say yes multiple times. And then magically, they’ll accede to your demands. Does it work? Sometimes, I guess. But often, the other person senses what you’re doing, feels the pressure, and goes red alert. They close their mind to new ideas and distrust everything they hear.
To persuade, you must get the other person to relax. Only then do you have a chance at succeeding. Your counterpart wants to say no; they yearn to reject your assertion. The professional persuader allows that to happen. They go for the no.
That’s how you help them feel at ease. Let them think it’s over. At that point, they’re more open and willing to listen to you.
Then respond with a variation of one of these questions:
- “Now that it’s over, do you mind if I ask you a question?”
- “So, we’re done. Can I ask you something?”
Now, you can begin in earnest.
2. Frame your facts
The Framing Effect is a cognitive bias that impacts how we interpret information. We draw different conclusions from the same info depending on how someone presents it to us.
Facts presented through a positive frame encourage us to decide in favor of an option, while data framed with a negative slant encourage us to move away from that alternative.
The effect has been shown in some studies to be one of the most significant factors in decision making.
Whether they realize it or not, the best persuaders exploit this bias. Here’s a simple example of how it works.
Let’s suppose you and I want to see a movie. I find reviews by 65 different critics.
To convince you, I mention 21 critics praised the movie. Based on that information, you agree with my choice.
Now, if instead, I tell you 44 critics trashed it, you would evaluate the information through a different frame.
The right frame alone won’t persuade, but it serves as a solid base on which you build your case.
3. Convert desire to pain, and you create urgency
Most folks try to persuade by promising benefits (money, popularity, prestige). But I learned something surprising from both my teachers.
They professed a distaste for promising rewards as a means of winning favor.
Instead, they positioned their arguments as a way to avoid pain. People will seek reward with sufficient motivation. But they will do anything to escape pain, especially if it’s a pain now, and not in the future. It creates built-in motivation, one less thing you need to manufacture.
Structure your argument as a way to escape a current torment, or as a mentor explained. “Help them discover the pain they never knew they had.”
It’s easier to do this than you think.
Imagine your significant other says to you, “If we’d spend more time together, we could strengthen our relationship. Doesn’t that sound nice?” For most, it might, but it wouldn’t motivate anyone to action.
Now suppose your significant other says, “If we don’t spend more time together, our relationship will suffer.” That creates pain, but not until the future.
Finally, they say, “I think we should end our relationship. We don’t spend enough time together. You don’t seem willing. What do you think?”
The third option creates pain in the present, and that results in urgency.
4. Motivate with FOBLO (more potent than FOMO)
So, you’ve heard of FOMO. But few people talk about FOBLO — the fear of being left out. Fear of missing out creates anxiety. But the fear of being left out creates distress. It hurts more when someone (especially a peer) excludes you from the action as opposed to missing it voluntarily.
That’s social pressure at play. Both of the great persuaders made use of the subtle, often unstated fear of being left out.
Think of it in this context. Pretend you’re a member of a book club. There’s a party on Friday to discuss the book and socialize. You haven’t read it yet. Which scenario hurts most?
- You can’t go because of another commitment.
- The leader prohibits you from attending when you tell them you haven’t read the book.
In the second scenario, you’re not missing out on the party; you’re being left out of it. There’s a feeling of rejection that comes with being left out. We often go to great lengths to avoid it.
5. Let them connect the dots
Persuading someone differs from convincing someone. You can’t convince anyone to change their mind or decide in your favor. When you persuade, you play a game of connect-the-dots. Aim to connect most of the dots until the picture begins to manifest, and then let the other person piece it together. “Hey, look. I see it now. It’s a dog.”
Many fantastic pitches and arguments fall apart at the final stage because folks make the mistake of connecting the last dots. They smell victory and move in for the kill, following one of these two patterns:
- They draw the conclusion for the other person — “See how my plan works best?”
- They try to catch the other person in a contradiction — “You said X before. Now you’re admitting to Y. Admit it. My option works better. Right?”
People love to figure things out. Don’t deprive them of that pleasure. And when they figure it out themselves, they never question their conclusion.
That’s the art of persuasion. Show them the path, lead them to the finish, and then get out of the way. Trust that they’ll find the destination.