Persuasion is the process of changing or reinforcing attitudes, beliefs or behaviors, and is something that most people will do or experience on a daily basis. For example, advertisers try to persuade potential customers to buy their products by highlighting certain features or benefits which may appeal to their target audience.
A parent may try to persuade their child by using the prospect of a reward or punishment. A politician tries to persuade others to support their political campaign. And you most likely have tried to persuade others in order to get or do the things you want in life.
Put quite simply, the ability to successfully persuade is one of the most valuable and powerful skills that you can possess. A master of persuasion is more likely to get what they want, when they want it and how they want it than someone who has poor or average persuasion skills.
It is important to note however, that persuasion is not only about influencing people and getting what you want. It is also about understanding the psychology of why people think and act in certain ways.
As a result, the more you begin to learn about people the more effectively you will be able to interact and communication with them, which in turn will help to make you a more social and likeable person.
This alone makes studying persuasion worthwhile, as research has found that you are much more likely to succeed in life if other people like you and like what you do. This of course, should come as no surprise to anyone, because virtually everything that we do in life involves interacting with people in one way or another.
How People Can Respond to What You Say
Generally speaking, a person can respond in two ways to what you say to them: thoughtfully and mindlessly.
A thoughtful response involves critically analyzing what another other person is saying. This type of response is primarily driven by an area of the brain, known as the neocortex, which is responsible for allowing us to think in a logical way.
In this state of mind, we listen hard to what a person is saying, ask questions and weigh up the pros and cons of their argument. Often a person will also exhibit body language suggestive of contemplation and consideration such as lowering of the eyebrows or stroking of the chin.
In contrast, a mindless response involves taking what a person says at face value with little or no critical analysis. This type of response can be driven by either the reptilian or emotional part of the brain, and often results in automatic or illogical responses that can lead to decisions or behaviors which a person later regrets.
The main difference between a thoughtful and mindless response is the level of engagement or control that a person has in their response to something.
When responding thoughtfully, a person will tend to be conscious of how they respond, whereas when they respond mindlessly, they will tend to respond in an automatic or unconscious manner.
Each of these two responses can affect ones ability to successfully persuade in different ways, as we shall now examine in the following sections.
How persuasive you will be to someone who is thoughtfully responding to your message, will largely be determined by how much sense it makes to them and whether or not they think that it is a good idea. This is typical of a thinking logical brain response.
For example, if I were to try to persuade you to jump off a bridge because you will experience a few thrilling moments on your way down, I would most likely fail in my persuasion attempt.
A thoughtful response may agree that the experience could be fun, but the fact that you would almost certainly die or suffer a serious injury when you hit the ground, would cause you to reject this persuasion attempt. You looked at the facts, and critically analyzed what I said. In this case, my message made no logical sense and so was rejected.
However, if I were to again try to persuade you to jump off a bridge but this time with a bungee cord attached to your ankles, then the likelihood of successfully persuading you would dramatically improve. You recognize that the activity will be fun and safe, and so will be more likely to do it.
Of course, just because something makes logical sense doesn’t necessarily guarantee a successful persuasion outcome, as other factors, such as your emotions, may in some cases override or alter your conscious response.
In this example, a person’s fear of heights may dissuade them from doing the bungee jump even though they consider it a perfectly safe activity.
When do people respond thoughtfully?
People are most likely to respond thoughtfully when they have plenty of time to think about what you have said, and/or when your message is outrageous, shocking or clashes with their existing beliefs and values.
This is why if you are making an important decision, you should always give yourself as much time as possible so that you can carefully analyze the situation and make the right choice based upon the evidence available to you.
Mindless persuasion involves responding to someone’s request without critically analyzing what was said.
This usually occurs when our minds become fixed on automatic pilot, such as when we don’t have the time, motivation, ability to listen carefully or when we consider the information to be unimportant or of little significance.
As a result, instead of relying on facts, logic and evidence to make our decision, we rely on our instincts or look for cues from other people or things around us to help make our decision as quickly and easily as possible.
For example, during election time political candidates debate on TV with the aim of persuading the viewer to become a supporter of that candidate and to vote for them.
If you were in a thoughtful mode you would listen hard to all candidates, and, after a careful examination of the issues discussed and the evidence presented, make up your mind as to who to vote for.
However, if you decided to invite some friends over for a drink, and were half watching the debate and half talking amongst yourselves about an unrelated issue, you would most like respond to the candidate’s messages in a mindless manner.
In this state, rather than relying on facts and evidence you would make your judgment based on simple external cues around you.
These cues could include the attractiveness of the speaker, the reactions of your friends and the pleasure or pain associated with agreeing with what the candidate has said. This is likely to occur for several reasons:
Firstly, your attention is being divided between your friends and the debate that you are watching, which results in less critical analysis because your cognitive resources are being divided between two stimuli.
Whenever your attention is divided amongst two or more different things, the brain has a natural tendency to use short cuts due to the limited processing power it is able to devote to any one particular stimulus.
Other factors, such as the presence of alcohol and your friends, can also affect the impressions you form and the decisions you make. Alcohol for example, tends to lower ones inhibitions and cause them to act in an irrational way.
Your decisions are also likely to be affected by your friends at an unconscious level. It is well-known for example, that most people tend to go along with the prevailing view of a group even if that view is contrary to their own.
This is known as “group think”, and is something which is widely used by advertisers to sell their products. The reason why group think tends to be such a powerful means of persuasion, is because the more popular something seems, the more right or correct we perceive it to be.
As a result, we are much more likely to agree with or follow something which is popular than something which is unpopular.
When do people respond mindlessly?
Generally speaking, mindless persuasion will be more likely to occur when you are under pressure, rushed, in a hurry, have lots of simultaneous incoming information, distracted by other people/events or when you are caught off guard.
Mindless persuasion can also occur when you are under the influence of drugs, alcohol or fully trust another person.
Mindless persuasion is the easiest way to persuade someone, because by doing so, your message bypasses their logical mind.
This means that they do not critically analyze what you are saying, and so are less likely to find faults or disagreements with your argument. In other words, they will do what you say without really thinking about it.
However, if a person is given time to carefully think about what you have said and devote their full attention to your words, this will increase the likelihood of them finding faults or disagreements in your message and reject it.
This is why time limited offers are often used as a sales tactic. Such offers are designed to cause you to react impulsively using your reptilian or emotional brain and not with your thinking logical brain.
Outcomes of Communication
When you communicate with another person with the intention of getting them to do something, that person can respond in a variety of ways to what you have said.
These outcomes of communication will then affect your subsequent dealings with that person, and the type of persuasion technique or tactic that you choose to use on them.
Below, we look at some of the most common outcomes of communication that can occur when people try to influence each other.
With persuasion, one person successfully persuades another person to adopt or agree to their position. The amount of time required for a successful persuasion will largely depend on the persuader’s skill and the other person’s initial point of view.
This “point of view” is known as the persuasion starting point, and can include people who will easily agree with you, people who are neutral to your message and people who are hostile to your message.
A successful persuasion is the desired and preferred outcome of communication, as it will result in you getting what you want.
If you are unable to persuade someone to accept your position completely, then you must begin to negotiate. In a negotiation, you try to get what you want and the other person tries to get what they want.
In order to successfully conclude a negotiation, each party must be willing to give something up. In other words, they must be willing to come to a compromise. If both parties get what they want, then this is known as a win-win situation because everyone benefits.
Since it is highly unlikely that you will successfully persuade everyone you meet without giving up something which you value, you must always be willing and prepared to negotiate.
At some point in your life, you have probably come across someone who refused to change their mind regardless of what you said to them. They became firmly rooted in a particular belief, and refused to change it no matter what. This type of behavior is known as fixation.
Fixation is commonly seen amongst members of political parties and religious groups. Each opposing side tries to convince the other that they are right, but nothing changes and each side becomes more hardened in their original position.
Fixation is like trying to push a donkey. The more you push, the more the stubborn donkey digs its heals in. If you see fixation when trying to persuade someone, back off, change the topic and adopt a new approach.
If you continue using the same approach, you will only entrench that person deeper in their original view which will then make it virtually impossible for you to successfully persuade them.
Polarization occurs when the gap between what you want and what the other person wants increases the more you talk. This usually occurs when you unfairly attack another person’s position and refuse to listen to their argument.
When this happens, you will both drift further and further apart and may also harbor feelings of resentment or anger towards each other.
Be careful of polarization, as it will make successful persuasion virtually impossible. If you notice it occurring, change your communication style immediately such as by altering your body language and/or the content of your message.
Types of Persuaders
Just like how people can have different personality characteristics, they can also have different persuasion characteristics. As a result, how one person tries to persuade you could be very different from how another person tries to persuade you.
Becoming aware of these different types of persuaders can help you to adapt your persuasion strategy when dealing with different types of people, improve your own persuasion techniques, and most importantly, help you to better protect yourself against being inappropriately persuaded by someone else.
There are three main types of persuaders or influencers, they are: Foxes, Bloodhounds and Donkeys.
These names are given so that you can easily remember to associate a certain personality characteristic with the type of persuasion technique that they use. Below, we look at each of these different persuaders in turn.
Foxes are cunning, crafty and sly. They are very competitive, have excellent persuasion skills and are willing to deceive and manipulate other people. Their ultimate goal is for them to win and for you to lose.
The persuasion technique used by the fox involves them focusing on short-term gain. For example, if they were selling you something they would just focus on making the sale, and would not be concerned with how their behavior or product might damage their long-term reputation. As long as they get to close the deal, they are happy.
You must be very aware of the fox, because just like wolves, they can dress up in sheep’s clothing. This means that a fox may appear nice, kind and considerate, but this is only an act designed to deceive and fool you as there is nothing more they would enjoy than to eat you alive!
Types of foxes
Foxes fall into two groups. The first type of fox has become a fox because of an overriding ambition to succeed. Such people would like to play a win-win game, but believe that in a dog-eat-dog world the good guys finish last. As a result, they follow the way of the fox.
People in this group tend to be insecure about themselves and their possessions. They fear that someone or something will take away the things which they enjoy, and so tend to have little faith in mankind. These people can be changed, but only if they are shown that not everyone is out to destroy them.
The second group of foxes may be unchangeable. They lack trust, don’t care about other people’s needs and delight in contests where they win and you lose. These people will do anything to get what they want, even if that means walking all over you.
Do not even attempt to change this type of fox, as they will most likely see your caring attitude as a sign of weakness and try to exploit it so that they can take advantage of you.
Bloodhounds are detectives at heart. They recognize the influence opportunities in a situation and take advantage of them. Unlike the fox however, the bloodhound tends to aim for a win-win situation.
They also tend to think about the long-term implications of what they do, and recognize that a reputation built over many years can evaporate in a few minutes with the wrong tactics.
Bloodhounds have excellent persuasion skills, because they are constantly looking for things which they can use to work towards their advantage but do so under the direction of a decent moral standard. Unlike the fox, bloodhounds do not want to eat you alive. Instead, they would prefer to eat with you.
Donkeys are stubborn, inflexible and unwilling to learn. Typically, any attempts at persuasion by the donkey result in confusion, arguments and conflict. Needless to say, donkeys have poor persuasion skills.
Donkeys can often be recognized as the “know it all” type of person. They believe that they are right, regardless of any evidence to the contrary. They live in their own world, and pay little attention to the wants and needs of other people.
Types of donkeys
Most donkeys simply don’t know how to analyze or manage an influence opportunity, and so become donkeys simply through a lack of knowledge and skill. They can be changed, but only if they are willing to learn new ways of doing things. Often however, they are not.
The second group of donkeys have a natural distaste for using persuasion techniques, which is why they make poor persuaders. They see influencing and the art of persuasion as unethical manipulation, and so are unwilling to learn about or use persuasive skills.
Again, this group can be changed if they are willing to learn and educate themselves. This usually occurs when they realize that if they truly believe in something, then they are letting the other person down by failing to persuade them. If such a change occurs, they can then go on to become very fair and ethical persuaders.
The third group of donkeys are much harder to change. These are the truly inflexible people who are unwilling to see the world through another person’s eyes. Ultimately, these people are doomed to remain a donkey all their life and will very rarely be successful at persuading anyone.
Animal characteristics in human faces
Another way to determine what type of person you are dealing with, is to judge a person’s character by looking at their facial characteristics.
This is known as physiognomy, and although it has largely been discredited by modern science, you may still find it useful in helping you to form a decision about another person.
The basic idea behind this principle is that people’s faces can sometimes resemble those of animals. Depending on what type of animal that face resembles, it may give you an indication of a person’s personality characteristics.
For example, if a face resembles that of an owl, then you may be dealing with a person who will watch your body language closely and listen carefully to what you say.
A face which resembles that of a dog, may suggest that person is friendly, kind in nature and willing to trust you readily. Whereas a face that resembles that of a pig, may be indicative of a person who is greedy, lazy and only interested in short-term gain.
Whilst physiognomy can in some cases be helpful, it should not be relied upon as a means of forming your primary impression of another person but rather used alongside your other judgements.
Persuasion Starts With Credibility
One of the key factors involved in being a successful persuader is that you must be believable, and to be believable, you must first be credible. For example, if a homeless person tried to persuade you to take some pills that would improve your health, would you take them? Probably not.
However, if a doctor tried to persuade you to take some pills for your health, there is a good chance that you would take them. Why? Because as a doctor you perceive him or her to be much more credible than a homeless person, which automatically makes the doctor seem like a more trustworthy and persuasive person.
Credibility therefore rests on two pillars: trust and expertise. With these two factors your ability to persuade, or be persuaded, drastically increases.
The importance of trust
When speaking with another person we automatically and unconsciously look for cues to determine whether or not a person is being truthful with us. This natural self-defence mechanism occurs especially with people who we have never met before or who we know little about.
If we think that a person is lying to us, we will quickly discard what they saying. We are more trusting however, of the people who we know well, the people who our friends know and the people who we perceive as being a credible due to their position or status.
A person who is deemed to be trustworthy is said to be sincere, which comes from the ancient word “sincerus” that literally means “without wax“. This term originated from unethical pillar carvers who used wax to mask their mistakes, or to hide flaws in the marble they were carving.
It was only after many years of weathering did the wax fall out and reveal the deception of the carver, who, by that time, was long gone. Thus a sincere person was said to be without wax or uncamouflaged.
The significance of all this is that the more trustworthy a person thinks you are, the more likely it is that they will believe what you are saying. The more believable you are, the more persuasive you will become.
There are many factors which can influence how trustworthy we perceive a person to be. Some of these include:
• How long we have known a person.
• A person’s reputation.
• Experiences with a person in the past.
• Information about a person obtained from other people.
• Any ulterior motives a person may have.
People are naturally suspicious of other people, especially if they do not know a person. Because of this suspicion, you may find that people will try to test you during your conversation with them.
For example, they will try to reveal bias in your information or discover what you personally stand to gain (ulterior motives). If a person thinks that your message is heavily biased, then they will carefully analyze what you are saying and will probably dismiss it.
This is because information which is perceived as being biased is also usually perceived as being a threat, because in most cases, biased information will result in one person gaining benefit at another person’s expense.
A good example of bias and trust could include cigarette makers who tell you that smoking does not cause cancer.
Whilst you may be inclined to believe this statement at first, the fact that the cigarette makers have a lot to gain by promoting cigarettes in a favorable light greatly discredits the believability of their message and your trust in them.
How to Build Trust
Because acting in your own self-interest (i.e. doing something only because you will benefit) causes a perceived lack of trust, one way that persuaders can appear to be more trustworthy is by doing the opposite and acting against their own self-interest.
If we are convinced that someone has nothing to gain from their actions, or perhaps even something to lose, then we are much more likely to see that person as trustworthy and be persuaded by them.
For example, if someone was running a sponsored marathon where all the money they raised went to charity, then you would probably be more willing to sponsor them than if they were going to keep all the money themselves.
The key point to remember here, is that when we think someone is doing something only to benefit themselves we are less likely to go along with what they say or do. If however, we perceive that person as engaging in a selfless act where they are acting for the benefit of others, we are more likely to be persuaded by them.
1) Get someone to act on your behalf
Corporations face the same credibility problems as individuals, and often, much worse, as people have a natural distrust of large organizations because they are commonly seen as functioning only to serve their own needs.
To get round this barrier, large corporations have been known to create “front groups”, which are simply hired groups of experts who publicly promote what the corporation wants, whilst at the same time, claiming to speak for the public interest.
Some even believe that this occurs with news organizations who are used to promote a certain political agenda by supporting the favored or elected candidate.
This is why you should always be wary of any “experts” you see on TV who clearly support the policies of large organizations or of governments. Often, these experts have simply been hired to promote the party line, whilst appearing as though they are unbiased and independent.
2) Act like you are not trying to persuade
One of the best ways to increase trustworthiness and decrease bias, is to convince the other person that you are not trying to persuade them.
For example, suppose someone gave you a “hot tip” on a horse that was going to be racing soon. Would you place a bet? You might, but if you were to accidentally overhear someone talking about the best horse to bet on, then chances are you would be more willing to place your bet.
This reason for this is because when we believe that we are not being purposefully influenced, we naturally assume the information we hear to be more truthful and less biased than if someone was purposefully trying to influence us.
You can take advantage of this by making your persuasion seem indirect, whereby the less obvious your persuasion attempt appears the more persuasive your message will become.
This principle can be seen on both TV advertisements and entertainment programs. The use of a hidden camera for example, gives the appearance that something is real, not staged and truthful even though it may be entirely fictional.
There are many comedy shows which have become very popular using this hidden camera style, as real life situations are found to be funnier than situations in which we know to be scripted or false.
Movies are also starting to use a hand-held camera perspective, such as “The Blair Witch Project” and “Cloverfield”, because it gives an added sense of realism and believability to the film.
3) Turn a negative into a positive
People tend to be very skeptical when you tell them good things about you because anyone can easily lie about themselves.
However, if you tell someone a negative thing about you, they will find it easy to believe because this is something which not many people do or would purposefully lie about.
You can, therefore, use this principle to your advantage when trying to persuade another person by turning a negative into a positive from which you will gain benefit from.
A good example of this can be seen with an Avis rental cars advertising campaign. For years, Avis had been claiming that they were the “finest in rent-a-cars“.
The trouble with this slogan was that Hertz rental cars were recognized as the market leaders, so how could Avis have the finest cars when they were in second place? As a result, people did not believe this slogan, and Avis were losing money year after year.
However, Avis soon changed its advertising strategy by admitting it was number two. Their new slogan became “Avis is No.2. We try harder“. The advertising claims were now seen as credible, and after 13 years of losing money, Avis began to make money.
In persuasion, you can use this technique by presenting a negative that will trigger instant agreement, and then quickly shifting that negative into a positive so that you are seen in a more favorable light.
The negative that you use however, should not put you down or make you look so stupid that you cannot recover from it.
Others ways to increase trust
• Be reliable. Do what you promise and publicise your achievements.
• Be rational. It’s much easier to trust someone who makes decisions based on reason rather than emotion. Simon Cowell is a good example.
• Be Receptive. It’s much easier to trust someone who is receptive to our needs and concerns.
• Don’t oversell or exaggerate. Underpromise and overdeliver. People will not trust you if your words do not match up with your actions.
• Promote yourself. Associate yourself with a person who is already trusted, the trust that person has earned will spread to you.
Make yourself an expert
Once trust has been established it is much easier to build the second pillar of credibility, that of expertise.
An expert is simply someone who is regarded as being exceptional or highly skilled in a particular field. For example, doctors, dentists and lawyers could all be called experts because they are highly trained at what they do.
Typically, experts demonstrate their expertise to us through their subject’s technical language and terms, writing books, qualifications, publishing articles or giving television and/or radio interviews.
You don’t however, have to be a doctor, dentist or lawyer to be seen as an expert, as anything in which you have a detailed level of knowledge and understanding can help you to be seen as an expert by other people.
As an expert, people will hold your words in high regard. They will listen to what you have to say, and in most cases, agree with you. This will make persuasion a lot easier.
If you don’t feel that you are currently an expert at anything, here are some tips on increasing your perceived level of expertise.
• Publish articles or a book relevant to your field of interest.
• Persuade someone who is recognized as an expert in your field to publicly endorse you.
• Speak at events relevant to your field.
• Publicly celebrate any success you achieve to show your ideas were right.
• Learn to speak the language of your field.
• Attend courses and seminars in your field to keep up-to-date with new developments.
• Read one hour each day in your subject of interest.
Persuading Different Types of People
One of the biggest mistakes that you can make when using any type of persuasion technique is to treat all people the same, because as you already know, people are different, and so different people need to be persuaded in different ways for it to be successful.
When persuading different types of people it is therefore essential that you make an assessment of your persuasion starting point. This involves determining how receptive your target or targets are going to be to your message or proposal.
Some people for example, may already support your ideas and so will require little or no persuasion because they already agree with you and like you.
Some people on the other hand may be neutral or undecided, and will require more effort and more time in order for you to persuade them. You are also likely to come across people who strongly oppose your ideas, thereby making a successful persuasion very difficult or impossible to achieve.
Below we examine each of these persuasion starting points, and some of the persuasion strategies and tactics that you can use to try to win them over to your way of thinking.
Starting to Persuade
For each of the three persuasion starting points, there are three questions that you should try to answer before attempting to persuade. These are:
1) What does your target already know?
Ask yourself what the person who you wish to persuade already knows about the topic or subject you want to talk about. Do they know nothing? Do they have a basic understanding? Are they an expert who has detailed knowledge in what you are going to be talking about?
2) What are their interests?
Ask yourself how interested the person is in your subject and what you have to say. For example, do you love golf but they want to talk about football?
If someone has no interest in what you say it will be difficult to maintain their attention for long enough to communicate your message to them.
3) How much do they already agree with you?
Make an assessment of how much support you are likely to receive from a person. In other words, what is your persuasion starting point?
Are they obviously hostile to your ideas, or holding up banners supporting you? The more hostile an audience is, the more time and effort it will take to persuade them.
Once you have answered each of these three questions, you can then use one of the following persuasion strategies which you feel is the most appropriate for your target.
Openly Hostile People
Hostile people are those who obviously oppose your ideas and hold their own opposing views.
Some examples could include different religious groups, different cultural groups, different political groups, different sporting teams and groups with differing moral opinions (i.e. pro-gay rights vs. anti-gay rights or pro-animal testing vs. anti-animal testing).
As a result of your differences with the other person, you may find that hostile people will question your credibility, evidence and open-mindedness. They will believe that they are right, and that you are wrong.
In addition, because we tend to dislike people who hold viewpoints that oppose or challenge our own, you may even experience some verbal or physical abuse.
Persuading an openly hostile opponent must therefore be done extremely carefully and with caution. Use the wrong tactic or to persuade too quickly, and you will only succeed in entrenching them in their original belief. This can result in fixation and polarization which we discussed earlier on in this article.
Remember, they believe that you are wrong and they are right, and so you need to persuade them in a simple, gentle, non-threatening and convincing way.
How to begin
To begin persuasion of a hostile person, you first need to warm them up to the point where they will listen to you and consider your points. If you can’t get them to listen to you, then you won’t be able to persuade them.
A good tactic for establishing rapport is to begin with a neutral joke or story, something that is not offensive and does not challenge their views. This serves as an ice breaker which will lower their defenses and get them to see you as a person, rather than just someone who represents another point of view.
Being seen as an individual is very important, as you will often find that when people are openly hostile to you they see you not as a person, but rather as just an anonymous member representing an opposing group. It is a lot harder to be hostile to someone when you can personalize them as an individual.
Once you have broken the ice, the next step is to dip your toe into the water.
Start by talking about the areas you already agree on, or the things which you have in common. The purpose here is not to persuade, but to further create rapport by getting them to see you as a person who also shares similar views to their own.
The more similar they think you are to them the more they will like you, the more they will listen to you and the more likely it will be that you can persuade them later on.
Starting to persuade
When you begin to use any persuasion technique, don’t start with a direct attack such as by telling the person they are wrong or why you think they are wrong. Also, don’t begin by stating that you are going to change their mind about an issue.
If you do any of these things, you will quickly lose the rapport which you have already established and they will raise their defenses becoming hostile again.
The best way to approach a hostile person is to try to establish some degree of credibility. You can do this by stating the negatives about your point of view, whilst at the same time mentioning the positives about their point of view.
This is a good way to approach a subject because you are not attacking it, but instead are telling them what they already know and agree with. Remember, any hostility that you experience will come not from discussing the subject itself, but only when two opposing views clash.
Challenging their views
Now that you have approached the subject you can begin to challenge their point of view, and perhaps, persuade them to your way of thinking.
When stating opposing points of view, always ensure that your statements are supported with a credible source. This could include experts, people who you both know or sources such as the news or scientific papers.
The important point to remember is not to over exaggerate or make claims that are obviously unsupported, unbelievable or from untrustworthy/unreliable sources.
The evidence which you present in support of your argument must be recognized as fact and be indisputable. Hostile people will look at your evidence very closely, and if they can find holes in it, you can be sure that they will try to exploit them.
When presenting your evidence, try to stress that you are looking for a win-win solution. Often people will become defensive when they are losing something, but when they feel that they have something to gain, they will be much more willing to consider what you are saying.
Psychologically, a win-win solution is less threatening, as some people do not like to admit that their original belief was wrong for fear of looking foolish.
Unfortunately, you may not always be able to offer a win-win solution. In which case, you need to present very strong supporting evidence which makes your proposal the only sensible course of action to follow and stress the benefits that will come from following it.
The ideal result is for you to persuade someone to your point of view by convincing them that their original viewpoint was incorrect.
However, what you will find with openly hostile people is that this very rarely occurs. It is far more common to neutralize a person to the point where they are no longer hostile, than it is to completely win them over.
The reason for this is that some people just don’t like to admit they are wrong, especially if they have held a particular belief for a long period of time. They have become entrenched in a particular viewpoint, and do not want to change it no matter what you say.
When presented with convincing solid evidence that challenges their viewpoint, these types of people will choose to ignore the information, make fun of it or pretend it doesn’t exist.
This is called cognitive dissonance (or cognitive discidence), and describes how people become extremely reluctant to change their views because it would mean changing their entire belief systems.
Very rarely will you change this type of person, but it is possible, although this will usually occur over a prolonged period of time rather than on your first persuasion attempt.
So if you are trying to persuade a very hostile person, be prepared to hang in there for the long run as you may need several attempts before you are finally able to persuade them.
You will find hostile people in everyday life, although they are especially common in cults and religious groups. The fact that people leave cults and change religions however, does show that cognitive dissonance can be overcome.
Neutral people are undecided and so neither support or oppose you. This provides a good opportunity to test your persuasion skills.
You should find neutral people quite easy to persuade as they usually have some understanding of the issue which you are talking about, but just require just a little clarification and evidence to win over.
Undecided people tend to be undecided in life. They are not leaders and prefer to follow other people, which means that they are quite happy to let someone else take charge.
What they really need is for you to make the decision for them, but to do so in a way which makes it seem that they made the decision. For example, you give them a choice of two options.
To begin persuading a neutral person, start by stating the benefits of your proposal and link these benefits to particular interests which they may have. Ask yourself, how does what you are offering directly benefit the person who you are trying to persuade? What’s in it for them?
Limit you main points to 2-3 clear and compelling messages. Make them simple, easy to understand and back them up with credible evidence. For best effect, use examples that are already familiar to them and which they can relate to.
To create emotions in your listener use personal experiences, stories, analogies or metaphors to create vivid images in their mind and alter their emotional state. To understand why this is important, please see this article on the importance of emotional states in persuasion.
Be careful however, not to saturate a person with information. Too much information will reduce the impact of your message and make it harder for the person to remember everything you have said.
Also, if this information is perceived as being biased or unfair, then your credibility will be damaged and people will be less likely to believe what you say.
Don’t forget to point out the downside of not accepting your proposal. Make sure they realize that if they don’t do what you propose, that they will lose out or experience a misfortune of some kind (this does not mean threatening or blackmailing a person).
If you present your proposal in a way that will satisfy their needs and benefit them, you should find this group relatively easy to persuade. Just remember to create strong emotional states, as those will influence how a person thinks and the subsequent actions they are likely to take.
Persuading uninterested people can prove to be quite difficult, because if a person doesn’t care about what you have to say then they won’t listen to you and so you won’t be able to persuade them
Therefore, to persuade an uninterested person, you first need to grab their attention, motivate and energize them so that they will want to hear your message. This can be done by telling an interesting story or stating a fact that shocks them.
Once you have gained their interest, the next step is to make them care about what you are saying by showing them how your proposal directly affects them.
Usually, the prospect of fear will work very well with this group of people, as if they feel that they are in danger or have something to lose, they will be much more willing to give you their attention.
Finally, support your proposal with 2-3 compelling facts that are supported with credible evidence.
Again, remember to emphasize the negative consequences of not following your recommended action, and stress how your proposal will benefit them. These benefits will be most effective if they address a particular concern or need the person has.
An uninformed person simply lacks knowledge or expertise of a subject. As a result, they don’t know enough to make an informed decision.
This group can be very easy to persuade, because if a person is uniformed, then you don’t have to weigh up the pros and cons of an issue which means that you can bias information in your favor.
To start persuading an uninformed person, begin by establishing some credibility such as by displaying some expertise or detailed knowledge of a subject. If the person thinks that you know what you are talking about, they will place greater value and trust in what you say.
This is a natural tendency that people have, where they listen to and accept what an expert is telling them. So if you have any experience or qualifications in a subject, use them to showcase your expertise.
Stating your proposal
To make your argument, keep your main points to three and make sure that they are easy to understand and backed up with credible evidence. Again, because this person is uniformed on the issue, you can bias the information in your favor.
You don’t need to become overly concerned about presenting a balanced argument, although you may still want to add some negatives about your proposal to make it appear balanced if you want to enhance your credibility further.
However, make sure that these are minor negatives which don’t detract from your overall persuasion attempt, and if possible, can also be turned into positives.
To establish an emotional link, try telling a story or using metaphors or analogies to convey your message in an interesting and entertaining way. Use descriptive language to paint a picture in their mind, and get them to actively think about what you have said.
If you provide an opportunity for the other person to ask you questions, and answer them convincingly, your perceived credibility will also increase.
People Who Support You
This is by far the easiest group to persuade, as they already agree with you and hold the same or similar point of view.
The first step for successful persuasion is to reignite that person’s enthusiasm by inspiring them with success stories or past victories. Your aim is to get them feeling good again, and then to use that energy for your persuasion.
This technique is commonly used by politicians when speaking to their supporters. The leader will get the audience excited by telling them how far they have come, or what they have accomplished, and then make their proposal.
Because this person already supports you, you don’t need to prove your case or present a balanced argument. So focus on the benefits and advantages of what you can offer, and provide a detailed plan of action of what you want them to do.
If you feel that someone may attack your ideas in the future, inoculate yourself against that attack by warning your target of the attack and then providing a counter to that attack.
If you are attacked, your target will remember your warning and will be less influenced by the attack and probably end up rejecting it entirely.
When dealing with groups of people you will very rarely find that they are all supportive, neutral or hostile. Most audiences contain a mixture of these subgroups, and so it is unlikely that you will be able to successfully persuade them all.
When attempting to persuade a mixed group of people, you therefore first need to decide who you want to persuade.
The most effective subgroup to target are those who are in the majority. Those who are largest in number. The reason that you should target your persuasion attempt at this subgroup is because of the following two reasons:
• They will provide you with the largest support or opposition.
• By successfully persuading the majority of a group, you create an interesting phenomenon called “group think”. This means that individuals in a group are more likely to think and behave in the same way that the majority of the group think and behave.
Whilst appealing to the majority of a group certainly does have its advantages, this does not necessarily mean that you should ignore the other members of a group. If you want to try to make your message appeal to as many people as possible, then you can always tailor different parts of your speech to suit different types of people.
The best example of this can be seen with television advertisements for children’s products such as toys, games and food. The advertisers know that whilst the children may want their product, it is the parents who have the money.
To appeal to both audiences, the advert usually has one message for the child and another for the parent. This is called two-sided advertising, whereby your message is designed to appeal to multiple subgroups.
However, be extremely careful when trying to appeal to everyone in a mixed audience, as you may end up alienating everyone. There is a good saying that sums this up:
“If you try to be everything to everyone, you will end up being nothing to no one.”
So target your message to the most influential majority, and then tailor your message to target other subgroups if necessary. But don’t try to please everyone, otherwise you are likely to fail.
Important Points to Remember
Many people often have unrealistic expectations when using persuasion techniques. They may see some actor in a film persuading someone to do something for example, and then assume that learning how to persuade others will occur easily and effortlessly. The reality however, is not quite like this.
Whilst you may be able use your persuasion skills on some people easily and with quick effect, the vast majority of people will require frequent exposures to your persuasion attempts.
It is very rare for example, for a person who is extremely angry with you to suddenly become your best friend and worship you because you use a particular persuasion technique on them.
Rather, it is more likely for you to neutralize their hostility, and then through repeated future efforts, turn that neutrality into a supporting friendship. So the key point to remember with any persuasion technique is not to expect full-scale conversions, and then get disappointed when they don’t happen.
Instead, think of persuasion as a gradual process, as a covert mission in which you slowly change how a person thinks without them realizing that you are influencing them. Force your persuasion, or try to rush it, and you will reveal your intentions and your cover will be blown.
Some people don’t like to change
One of the main reasons why people are resistant to change their thoughts is because of a psychological need to stay cognitively consistent. This means that we need to have some degree of consistency between new information and our existing attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.
In other words, we like to experience things which we are already familiar with and consider to be acceptable or appropriate for us as an individual. If we hear a new message that clashes with our existing beliefs, we tend to either argue against it and reject it or reinterpret it and accept it.
This occurs because the new information that clashes with our pre-existing beliefs, causes us psychological stress and anxiety. To get rid of these negative emotions, we process the message in a way that fits in with our existing beliefs.
For example, smoking is known to cause lung cancer and other diseases. However, many smokers still continue to smoke and modify this information so that it fits in with their existing beliefs. They do this in two ways:
1) Argue against it and reject it
To overcome the psychological pain this message causes, a smoker may argue that other factors such as car exhaust pollution or living in urban areas is the real reason why people get diseases and not because they smoke.
They may then dispute the validity of any evidence which states that smoking is harmful, and claim that it is somehow flawed. Whatever the argument used, the smoker rejects the validity of the negative health implications and continues smoking.
2) Reinterpret the message and accept it
Many smokers may argue that it won’t be them who gets a disease from smoking, and they will “get away with it” suffering no negative consequences.
They may then list evidence to support their claim, such as by saying that they eat healthy food and exercise or pointing out that there are lots of elderly people who smoke and are still alive.
In this case, rather than accepting that smoking is bad for them, the person has chosen to reinterpret the message as meaning that smoking is bad for other people and not for them.
These two psychological processes of interpreting information that conflicts with pre-existing belief systems is an important point to remember about persuasion, as you are more likely to persuade someone if what you are saying is reasonably similar to what they already believe in.
For example, you stand a greater chance of persuading a Catholic to donate money to a Catholic organization than to a Satanic organization.
So when your persuasion attempt clashes with a person’s beliefs, be aware that they will either reject it completely and not listen to any evidence you provide or reinterpret your message and accept it.
The key to getting someone to reinterpret your message and accept it, is to state your message in a way that is somehow related or relevant to their existing beliefs. For example, asking a Catholic to donate money to a Satanic organization because their son or daughter is a member.
Whatever technique you use, your aim should be to give the person who you are trying to persuade a way of relieving the psychological pain caused by your statement. This is done by allowing them to reinterpret it in a way that seems acceptable to their beliefs and values.
For example, most people reading this would not intentionally kill another person. However, you would probably be much more willing to kill if you knew that by killing someone you would prevent many more deaths.
In this example, whilst killing another person conflicts with your pre-existing beliefs (thereby causing you psychological pain and discomfort), by providing a way to relieve this discomfort (your action will save many innocent lives), you could be persuaded into doing something you normally would never do.
This type of thinking is often described as “the ends justifies the means” and is used all over the world to get people to do horrific acts that normally they would not do. But remember, this can only be achieved by providing an escape from the psychological pain that action would normally cause.
Without such an escape, the pain caused by your proposal will likely dissuade your target from doing what you are proposing.
The Importance of Physical Attractiveness
Out of all the various personality characteristics that a person can have, being likable is, in my opinion, by far the most important. Likable people not only have greater powers of persuasion, but are also far more likely to be forgiven and helped when things go wrong.
This can prove to be a tremendous advantage in life, because if someone doesn’t like you, then you can say and do all the right things and it still won’t make a difference. The simple fact is, if people like you then your life will be far easier and much more satisfying than if people don’t like you.
Hey, good looking!
You may or may not be pleased to discover this, but being physically attractive can increase your powers of persuasion and make you a more likable person.
Although the exact reason for this is unknown, it is believed that our appearance communicates to others our overall health and the types of genes that we have. The more attractive you are the better your genes are likely to be, which means the better your chances are of producing successful and healthy offspring.
Attractive people tend to have wider eyes or “baby faces”, and it has been shown that people with baby faces are seen to be more trustworthy and nicer people than those with more rugged or larger faces.
In the remainder of this article, we will discuss the effects that attractiveness has on a person’s ability to persuade others and what you can do to enhance how attractive others perceive you to be.
The fact that physical attractiveness increases your powers of persuasion is widely known in the advertising industry.
Research has shown for example, that when attractive women are used to promote certain products, such as cars, viewers are likely to rate that car as having a better design and as being more expensive than if no woman was present.
Unfortunately for advertisers though, studies have also shown that people are less likely to remember brand names when they are advertised with attractive sexy women.
What this means is that by using attractive people to advertise a product, advertisers are able to create a bias towards their product without the viewer even being aware that a bias exists.
In other words, attractive people can make you like something more without you even realizing why (mindless persuasion).
As a result, virtually all advertisements, especially those targeted towards younger generations, make an effort to use attractive female and male models.
Trust & honesty
Another benefit of physical attractiveness is how people perceive your character. Physically attractive people are more likely to be labeled as talented, kind, honest and intelligent. All crucial factors needed for successful persuasion.
The fact that attractiveness can have such a powerful impact on how others perceive your character is well-known by politicians. Attractive politicians are likely to receive more votes, and stand a greater chance of being elected than unattractive politicians.
This is why public figures make every effort to ensure that they are always appropriately dressed and appear healthy in public. Very rarely will you see a sick politician for example.
Another example of how important attractiveness can be comes from research done with criminals and court cases.
Researchers have found that the more attractive a defendant was, the more likely they were to be found not guilty or to receive a lesser sentence.
Attractiveness can however, work against a criminal if they have been deemed to have used their looks purposefully to deceive or manipulate another person. In such cases, attractive people will often receive a more lengthy sentence than an unattractive person.
When it comes to business and careers, good-looking men and women tend to have a head start over their less attractive colleagues.
The better looking you are, the greater the chances that people will look favorably upon you and your work, and the greater the chances of you being promoted to a higher position.
This is one reason why older business men and women are now undergoing plastic surgery, so that they can look younger and more attractive with the hope of advancing their career prospects.
However, being attractive can also work against you. When applying for a job for example, some secretaries will throw out applications from very attractive women for fear of them stealing their men!
Attractiveness isn’t the only way to persuade
There is no doubt that physical attractiveness can give someone an unfair advantage, and because it can be so important to your life and career, you should make every effort to increase your attractiveness to the best of your ability.
Things that everyone can improve on include their hair, smile, clothes, voice, body size and body language.
It is important to note however, that not being physically attractive does not mean that you will be unable to persuade someone, neither does it mean that you can rely solely on your looks to persuade.
Attractiveness has less of an impact as a means of persuasion when people are motivated to think hard about the quality of your message. Attractiveness therefore tends to be more useful for mindless persuasion, rather than when we are required to really think about something and weigh up the pros and cons.
Also, attractiveness is of little advantage in situations where it seems inappropriate. For example, we don’t expect doctors to be sensationally attractive, so the looks of a doctor are unlikely to affect how persuasive we perceive them to be.
Whilst physical attractiveness certainly is an important factor in becoming a likable person, the things you have in common with a person can be equally as important.
This is because even though being attractive can help you to make a good first impression, if you don’t have anything in common with someone, then your chances of a successful long-term relationship will decrease dramatically.
Similarity & Likability
People tend to like people who are like themselves. This means that the more interests you have in common with a person, the more similar they will feel to you and the more they will like you as a result.
Perhaps the best example of using similarity to create likability comes from salespeople. To create a sense of rapport with their client, salespeople are taught to search for similarities.
This can include where they were born, where they grew up, their favorite sports team or anything else that they can use to make the client feel they have something in common with them.
By creating similarities, the salesperson is able to tell the client that they are just like them. This helps to deepen trust, develop rapport, and most importantly, make the sale!
Here are some persuasion techniques that you can use when trying to create a sense of similarity with someone:
Have a similar attitude to the person who you are trying to persuade or influence. If they think that you think just like them, then they will be more likely to listen to you and agree with you.
Have a similar background, history or life experiences as another person. If you had a very easy and luxurious life but the person you are trying to influence has had a hard life, then they are unlikely to relate very well to you and may even resent you.
If you look similar to another person such as by the clothes you wear, you will be seen as being more like them and as belonging to their social group. Dress radically different, and you may be seen as an outsider.
If you have similar morals to a person then you are likely to get on well together. Share different morals, and your words will conflict making persuasion more difficult.
Making yourself similar
The most important areas to remember are your attitude and morals. This is because when somebody thinks like we do, we put up less mental resistance to their message because we already agree with it and believe it to be true.
However, when someone thinks different to us we analyze what they say more closely, and are therefore more likely to disagree with it and reject it.
A word of warning when using similarity in persuasion. Do not try to be exactly similar to another person, otherwise you may be perceived as being false and deliberately trying to mislead them.
If they suspect this of you, your trust and rapport will be lost. So whilst you can be similar to another person, it is a good idea to disagree on minor issues to make your conversation interesting and to give you something to talk about.
Reviewed – 1st April 2016