In his new book, The Catalyst, Wharton business school marketing professor Jonah Berger offers techniques and strategies for changing minds. One strategy seems counterintuitive, but it's brilliant: Effective persuaders don't tell people what to do; they encourage people to persuade themselves.
According to Berger, if you tell someone what to do, they become defensive. However, if they arrive at the same conclusion themselves, they're much more likely to buy what you're selling, whether it's your idea or product.
Here are four strategies to become an effective persuader and get anyone to follow your lead.
1. Provide a menu.
Give people a choice and they're more likely to go along with your idea.
If you're a parent, you employ this strategy all the time. You know it's not effective to make a demand like, "Eat your peas!" Instead we ask, "Which would you like to eat first, broccoli or chicken?" That's a menu.
The same strategy applies to your customers or prospects. According to Berger, effective persuaders provide a limited set of options from which people can choose. For example, most successful advertising agency executives don't show up at pitch meetings with only one proposal. They don't present 12 ideas, either. They offer a choice between two or three ideas.
"If the agency shares only one idea, the client spends the entire meeting poking holes in the presentation," Berger writes. But if you offer a few choices, the client spends their time deciding which one is better.
Give people options.
2. Ask, don't tell.
Ask more questions and make fewer statements.
According to Berger, people are often reluctant to follow someone's lead, but they're more likely to follow the path they set out for themselves.
For example, let's say you're trying to get your team to go along with a new initiative. Ineffective persuaders push it on people in the form of a declaration. Effective persuaders do the opposite. "They start by asking questions ... visiting with stakeholders, getting their perspectives, and engaging them in the planning process," says Berger.
This reminds me of a workshop I held with senior executives for a large, well-known travel organization. The company has more than 140 physical locations around the U.S. The challenge was to get everyone on board with a new plan to communicate benefits to customers. We decided that rather than tell employees what to say, we'd ask each store manager to hold listening sessions with employees to get feedback.
The final plan was very close to the original idea that executives had in mind. But by getting feedback--and incorporating some of the changes we heard--buy-in was seamless. There was little to no pushback from employees because they had a sense of ownership in the plan.
Questions boost buy-in. Ask more of them.
3. Highlight a gap.
Berger says that people strive for internal consistency. They want their beliefs and actions to align. Highlighting a gap means pointing out a disconnect between a person's thoughts and actions.
For example, if you're convinced that a project needs to end, you've got a tough sell. Your team might be wedded to it because they've put in so much time. Inertia sets in.
Berger suggests asking your team if they were starting from scratch today--knowing what they know--would they embark on the project? Ask them to put themselves in the shoes of a new CEO. Would a new leader green-light a project?
Highlight a gap in thinking to boost buy-in.
4. Start with understanding.
Applying "tactical empathy" is far more effective than telling people what to do. Effective persuaders make people feel like they're looking out for them. Rather than "persuade," start by understanding the other person.
Pay attention to your words. Berger suggests using inclusive pronouns. For example, you can say: "You and I are going to work this out" or "We've got to keep working together." By using "we" instead of "I" statements, you're more likely to build a bridge of trust.
Stop trying to convince people and encourage them to persuade themselves. It's the most effective persuasion strategy there is.