When you think of it that way, everyone needs to harness the power of persuasion: to convince other people your idea makes sense, to show investors or stakeholders how a project, or product, or business will generate a return, to help your employees understand why they should embrace a new process.
Having the ability to persuade is critical in every career. That's why successful people are extremely good at persuading others.
So how can you become more persuasive -- in a genuine and authentic way?
1. Always share positives and negatives.
According to University of Illinois professor Daniel O'Keefe, sharing one or two opposing viewpoints is more persuasive than sticking solely to the benefits of your position.
Why? No idea is perfect, and your audience knows that. They know there are other perspectives and other potential outcomes. Address that fact. Talk about the things your audience is already considering. Discuss potential negatives, and show how you will minimize or overcome those problems.
The people you hope to convince are more likely to be persuaded when they know you understand that they might have misgivings. Talk about the other side of the argument -- and then do your best to show why you're still right.
2. Always draw positive conclusions.
Which of the following two statements is likely to produce a better result:
- "You need to stop making so many mistakes," or
- "I would like you to work on improving your accuracy"?
And which of these two?
- "You need to stop criticizing people," or
- "I would like you to work on finding ways to praise your employees more"?
While it's tempting to use scare tactics, positive-outcome statements tend to be more persuasive. (Researchers hypothesize that most people respond negatively to feeling bullied or "guilted" into changing a behavior.)
If you're trying to create change, focus on the positives of that change. Take the person you hope to persuade to a better place instead of somewhere he or she should avoid.
3. Always take bold stands.
You would assume data and reasoning always win the day, right?
Nope. Research shows people prefer cockiness to expertise. Why? We naturally assume confidence equates with skill. Even the most skeptical person will be partly persuaded by another person's confidence.
In fact, we prefer advice from a confident source even to the point that we will forgive a mediocre or even poor track record.
Be bold. If you're confident -- and if you're not, why are you trying to convince people? -- stop saying, "I think..." Stop adding qualifiers. If you think something will work, say it will work. If you believe something will work, say it will work.
Stand behind your opinions -- even if they are just opinions -- and let your enthusiasm show. The people you hope to convince will be easier to persuade.
4. Always adjust your rate of speech.
There's reason behind the "fast-talking salesman" stereotype: In certain situations, talking fast works. Other times, not so much.
Here's what at least one study shows:
- If your audience is likely to disagree: Speak faster.
- If your audience is likely to agree: Speak slower.
When your audience is inclined to disagree with you, speaking faster gives them less time to form their own counterarguments, which gives you a better chance of persuading them.
When your audience is inclined to agree with you, speaking slowly gives them time to evaluate your arguments and factor in a few of their own thoughts. The combination of your reasoning plus their initial bias means they are more likely to, at least in part, persuade themselves.
In short: If you're preaching to the choir, speak slowly. If not, speak quickly.
And if your audience is neutral, speak quickly if only because you'll have a better chance of keeping their attention.
5. Always start with small "wins."
Gaining agreement has an enduring effect, even if only over the short term.
Instead of jumping right to the end of your argument, start with statements or premises you know your audience will agree with. Build a foundation for further agreement.
Remember, a body in motion tends to remain in motion, and that also applies to a head that is nodding with agreement.
6. Always (OK, not always, but at least occasionally) swear.
Swearing for no reason is just swearing. But say your team needs to pull together right f-ing now. Tossing in an occasional -- and heartfelt -- curse word can actually help instill a sense of urgency because it shows you care. (And of course it never hurts when a leader lets a little frustration or anger show, too.)
But at the same time, be yourself. Authenticity is always more persuasive. If you never swear, don't start. But if you feel strongly enough to slip in a mild curse word, feel free.
Science says you're likely to be a little more persuasive.
7. Always know the way your audience prefers to process information.
A fellow supervisor used to frustrate the s--- out of me. (See? Swearing does show you care.) I was young and enthusiastic and would burst into his office with my awesome ideas and lay out all my facts and figures, feeling sure he would immediately agree -- and he would disagree with my ideas.
Every. Daggone. Time.
I finally realized he wasn't the problem. I was the problem. He needed time to think and process. By demanding an immediate answer, I put him on the defensive and in the absence of time to reflect, he would fall back on the safe choice: Sticking to the status quo.
So I tried a different approach. "Don," I said, "I have an idea that I think makes sense, but I'm sure there are things I'm missing. If I run it by you, could you think about it for a day or two and then tell me what you think?"
He loved that approach. One, it showed I valued his wisdom and experience. Two, it showed I didn't just want him to agree -- I genuinely wanted his opinion. And most important, it gave him time to process my idea the way he felt most comfortable.
Always know your audience. Don't push for instant agreement if the other person's personality makes that unlikely. But don't ask for thought and reflection if the other person loves to make quick decisions and move on.
8. Always choose the right medium.
Say you're a man who hopes to persuade a man you don't know well, or even at all. What should you do?
If you have a choice, don't speak in person. Write an email first.
As a general rule, men tend to feel competitive in person and turn what should be a conversation into a contest we think we need to win. (Be honest; you know you do it sometimes.)
The opposite is true if you're a woman hoping to persuade other women. According to the researchers, women are "more focused on relationships," so in-person communication tends to be more effective.
But if you're a guy who hopes to persuade another guy you know well, definitely communicate in person. The closer your relationship, the more effective face-to-face communication tends to be.
9. Always make sure you're right.
You can share positives and negatives, start with small wins, adjust your rate of speech and medium accordingly, but what matters most is your actual message. First and foremost, you need to be right.
Be clear. Be concise. Be to the point. Win the day because your data, your reasoning, and your conclusions are solid.
Persuasion skills should simply be the icing on an undeniably logical cake.