Monday, September 19, 2011

Persuasion Skills: How To Get What You Want

Last week I was at the grocery store when my three-year old toddler asked, "Daddy, I want that chocolate ice cream." I suppose it was more a demand than a question. When I refused to put the chocolate ice cream in our cart, he quickly turned up his volume by about 100 decibels, and made his demand again. The last thing I wanted was to create a scene at the grocery store, so I gave in and placed the ice cream in the cart. He was very persuasive.

If you're not a toddler, then screaming at the top of your lungs would probably not be very effective. But whether you want to admit it, we persuade people on a daily basis. In fact, we have to persuade people quite often to get what we want. I want you to read this article, so I started out with a relatable anecdote about persuasion to get you hooked. Did it persuade you to continue reading? If you want to upgrade your own persuasion skills, keep reading!

Stand in Their Shoes

You cannot persuade someone until you truly understand them. This is often over-looked. Don't assume that you know what they want. Try to look at the issue from their perspective – not yours. Talk about how your request will benefit them and their goals, not yours. And don't be afraid to simply ask what the other person is looking for. Ask what it would take to sway them.

Everyone has needs and wants. And those needs come in all shapes and sizes; primarily emotional, physical, material, and psychological. Are they looking for material gain and wealth? Do they just want to feel less stressed? When it comes to job satisfaction, you would expect that the average worker would care most about salary. Surprisingly, recent studies indicated that receiving appreciation was rated as much more important.

In addition, everyone has overt and covert needs and wants. They may express that they desire a nicer car – but they may really just want to feel more liked by their peers. Don't ignore their underlying needs. People will rarely state their underlying needs – in fact, many needs are locked away in the subconscious. Luckily humans are very similar and have similar underlying needs. We all want to be liked, appreciated, less stressed, etc.

People Desire to Remain Consistent

There is a famous psychological concept called the Consistency Principle. Keep this in mind when persuading someone. Essentially it states that people prefer to remain consistent with their beliefs, feelings and actions.

Does your request take them off of their path? Are you asking them to be inconsistent with how they view themselves? If you're trying to persuade someone who doesn't gamble, that they should buy a flight to Vegas, you're going to be asking them to veer off of their normal path.

Your best bet is to frame your request as something that keeps them on their path. Maybe they think of themselves as a techno-geek; so bring up how Vegas has a big techno convention coming up.

They Need to Like You

Liking and trust go hand-in-hand. If they like you, they'll be more likely to trust you and what you have to say. And if they think you have many things in common, even better. If you demonstrate that you have some similarities, they'll more likely assume that you understand them and their needs.

Don't hesitate to subtly point out what you have in common. Do you know that they like the Detroit Lions too? Work into the conversation some interesting fact or news about the Lions. Do you see a diploma from MSU on their wall? Bring up something you know about MSU (it would be even better if you actually attended that school!).

Study their body language and preferences (this works well in interviews too). Are they more casual in dress or behavior? Are they leaning back in their chair or are they sitting up with perfect posture? Subtly mimic what they do and they'll subconsciously view you as more like them. Do they prefer serious conversation or playful conversation? You get the idea.

Can They Trust You?

There are many ways of earning their trust. Make sure they know your credentials. Make sure they are aware of your experience or knowledge (without bragging).

A subtle trick to earning trust is by letting them in on private information. By disclosing some private information, they may be more likely to let you in on some inside information as well. Even if they do not return the favor, they will trust you more for showing them what was "behind the curtain."

For example, you can say statements like, "Look, I'll be honest with you, I'm just trying to meet my quota for this month…" or "Listen, usually we can't do this, but I'll offer ____ if you make your decision today."

Telling someone that you are trying to sell them something can be more effective than you realize. People appreciate honesty. This works in the dating scene as well – one of the best lines for meeting someone at a bar is to avoid pick up lines and simply say something like, "Hi, I just wanted to meet you…I could buy you a drink or say something witty, but I figured I would just say hi."

Use the Conformity Principle

This is another famous psychological principle. We are social beings and prefer to follow others than to go against the grain. Following others is easier, safer, and feels more natural for most people. There are thousands of studies on this fascinating principle if you want to learn more. One of my favorite experiments involved a bunch of hired actors who would ride an elevator and wait for someone to step inside. After a few seconds, all the actors would turn around and face the wall behind them. Almost every time, the innocent test subject would turn around too!

Use this principle to your advantage. By bringing up how others have agreed to your proposal, you will be more likely to persuade. Just remember, people are more likely to follow those who are similar to them. If you tell a CEO that all the call center representatives are doing it, the CEO may not care.

Play to Win – Together

Persuasion shouldn't be as much about winning a battle as it is about winning together. Successful persuasion occurs when both sides are happy. Look for the option that benefits everyone if you can. Never do something that may turn sour for the other person because you may cross paths again in the future.

Geoff Peart, M.Ed., is the author of the blog,, where people can learn more about how to improve their social skills and improve their lives. All of the content is free and updated weekly. Geoff is constantly searching for the secrets of good conversation and welcomes any feedback.

Thanks to Geoff Peart, M.Ed. / Life Optimizer


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