Doctor’s Note: This article was first published on October 31, 2016
Ever gotten into an argument with someone who’s clearly wrong, but you can’t change their mind? Wish you could just Jedi mind-trick your racist uncle into not voting for a bigot? Or have you just been jealous of people who seem to be natural influencers, who are just so persuasive that everyone seems to agree with them?
More persuasive people understand something that most folks don’t get: that bringing someone around to your point of view isn’t about logic, it’s about emotion. Being more persuasive isn’t about having the best, most logical argument, it’s about how you get people to listen in the first place. By learning how to connect with people, you can become a master influencer.
Build Rapport To Be More Persuasive
The first step to being more persuasive is pretty simple: they have to like you. Why? Because before you can persuade them, they have to listen to you and we don’t listen to people we don’t like or respect.
Think of that asshole at work who just gets on your nerves. Now imagine that they’re trying to convince you that, say, that the Moebius Silver Surfer is the best when you know the Kirby Silver Surfer is the only true Surfer. Are you going listen to them? No, you’re going to grit your teeth and spend your time wondering where to hide their body. Why would you listen to someone who’s just so demonstrably wrong?
Now imagine that someone you like wants to discuss comics with you and thinks Ron Lim did the best Silver Surfer. You’re more likely to at least have a friendly debate with them. Sure, you may not agree, but at least you can respect his opinion. Why? Because you’re starting from a place of “well, I like him, so I am willing to hear him out.”
When you don’t like someone, your guard is up. You’re not going to listen, you’re going to be spending your time building your argument against them. When we like people, we are more likely to do things for them… including listening to them.
That is why the first step to being more persuasive is simple: you want to build rapport with the person you’re trying to convince. The quickest and easiest way to build rapport is to focus on commonalities: what makes you similar to them? It could be that you have similar jobs, or that you’ve been in their position before. It could be a shared fandom or a similar sense of humor. Even something as simple as mirroring their body language can help build rapport with someone and make people more comfortable with you.
Building rapport sends the signal of “we’re part of the same tribe, you can trust me,” and leaves them more open to hearing you out. Once they’re willing to listen, then you have your opening to persuade them.
Let Them Say “No”
If you’ve spent any time looking at how to influence people’s thinking and persuade them to do what you want, you will have heard of the “yes ladder”. Put simply, the Yes Ladder is a verbal way of getting your foot in the door. It’s a form of emotional momentum building You ask a series of questions designed to get someone to say “yes”. The more you say “yes”, the more likely you’re going to keep saying yes. So people will start off with a small ask – either an obvious question or a simple favor and build to their big ask.
A lot has been written on how to use the Yes Ladder to persuade people to do what you want. So much so that people tend to recognize it for what it is. Think about it: how many times have you seen someone use a “ask an obvious question” technique to get you to buy something or to donate money? How often have you felt like they were insulting your intelligence by pulling that trick on you?
So what should you do instead?
You should ask for a “no” first. It’s a technique that FBI hostage negotiators love to use, because “no” means autonomy. It lets the other person feel like they’re in control, instead of being pushed into committing to something. That, in turn, let’s them relax. They’ve put up their guard and now it’s on their terms.
That, ironically, works in your favor. Once they relax, they’re more open to being persuaded instead of dismissing you out of hand. That’s why you want to get that “no” out there early on. Ask a question that’s designed to get a “no” answer. “Is now a bad time to talk” is an easy one. So is “hey, are you busy” when you know that they aren’t. Even just making an obviously wrong assumption to get them to say “no” gets that word out there and triggers the relaxation effect.
People Are Motivated By Loss (And Other Emotions)
The human psyche is fascinating in how often it can seemingly work against it’s own best interest. One of the most common examples is how motivated we are by the fear of loss. We are more prone to do things out of a fear of what we might lose (or miss out on) than by what we might gain. Aficionados of the Red Pill philosophy trade on that fear of loss; here’s what you’re missing out on because you’re just another blue-pill beta mangina. If you don’t follow this belief system, someone else is going to get all the pussy that could be yours. That fear of losing out keeps us throwing good money after bad and staying in relationships long after we should have left.
This is part of why so many sales focus on “limited time only” or “supplies are limited” – it triggers that fear of loss and motivates us to behave in ways that we wouldn’t otherwise.
So how does this work with being more persuasive? You use that fear of loss to your advantage by showing how your way could prevent it. How awful would it be for X to happen? But if they did Y instead…
Alternately, demonstrate how your path, your opinion, your whatever, gets them an opportunity that they wouldn’t have otherwise.
To forestall the obvious: this doesn’t mean using bribery or threats.
Being persuasive isn’t about scaring the other person into coming around, it’s about letting them feel that it was their idea in the first place.
Arguing Is The Opposite of Persuasion
One of the last things you want to do if you’re trying to be persuasive is to start an argument. Arguing with someone is quite literally the opposite of persuasion. This is why you rarely see opinions change in so called “discussions” on Twitter or Facebook; when an argument starts, everybody gets locked into their position. Even if you can demonstrate how correct you are with charts and graphs, nobody will budge.
Why? Because when it becomes an argument, it’s no longer about being right, it’s about winning. Remember what I said earlier about being motivated by loss more than by gain? An argument entrenches our positions past the point of reason because budging means losing and losing means giving up status. Nobody is going to be willing to admit defeat, especially when their pride is on the line. Nobody’s going to win, but everybody‘s going to lose.
And if you’re trying to change somebody’s beliefs… well, now all you’ve done is made them stronger. It doesn’t matter that you have all the facts on your side. It doesn’t matter that you’ve crafted a brilliant argument that neatly obliterates every single one of their points in a manner that is impossible to disagree with. Instead, you’ll have actually made their beliefs even stronger.
Because you were arguing instead of persuading, you’ll have invoked the backfire effect – now instead of changing their mind, they’ll just reaffirm their beliefs instead, facts be damned. They will quite cheerfully ignore logic, reason and even objective reality rather than change their minds. The deeper, more core the belief? The harder they’ll cling to it when you argue with them. This is part of why no amount of memes, clever articles or John Oliver YouTube videos or dictionary definitions will change somebody’s mind about Bernie Sanders or Trump or Clinton or anyone else on Facebook and why arguing with people flooding your mentions gets you nowhere on Twitter.
So what do you do when you want to change someone’s mind, especially when it comes to their deeply held beliefs?
Want To Be More Persuasive? Listen To Others
Being persuasive means you have to understand the person you’re trying to persuade… and they have to feel understood. One of the reasons why discussions turn into arguments that turn into deadlocks is because both sides tend to feel like they’re fighting to define reality. When you tell someone they’re objectively wrong and need to change, you’re challenging their worldview. Now they’re going to be on the defensive. You may want to correct them, but what they’re hearing is “everything you’re saying is wrong and you’re a bad person even though I don’t know a damn thing about what you’re actually on about.” This is how you destroy that rapport I was talking about earlier.
Obviously, that’s a mindset you want to avoid if you want to persuade someone.
There’s an article by David Wong of Cracked that went crazy-stupid viral: How Half of America Lost It’s F*cking Mind. While part of it is incorrect (Trump supporters are predominantly upper middle class, not working class), it does get one part absolutely correct: much of the clash between rural and urban has everything to do with reacting to stereotypes, rather than understanding and respecting the reality of their lives.
What does this have to do with being persuasive? Simple. The best way to get someone to think differently about something isn’t to come in assuming you know best and they need to come around to your way of thinking.
Instead, you need to do the opposite of that initial impulse. Instead of correcting them, you need to listen to them. And that means doing more than just letting them speak their peace; you have to actively listen. That means listening to what they say, rephrasing it in your own words to show that you get it and asking questions based on that reply.
You even want to point out where you agree with them. Like, specifically say “you know, you’re right about X and Y…”
“But,” I hear you cry, “why do I want to agree to this troglodyte who’s so very clearly Wrong?”
Because if you want to change their minds, you have to start by understanding where they come from. You have to empathize with them. As tempting as it is to write people off as a lost cause – and to be fair, some are – if you want to change someone’s mind, you can’t come from a position of “fuck you, you’re wrong, I’m right, get on my level.”
Instead, you want to show you get them. You understand. You’re not invalidating everything, you just disagree on some things. You see them as a person and you acknowledge their wants, fears and beliefs as valid. That puts you on an equal footing; now you’re not lecturing from on-high, you’re conversing, person to person. Now you’re able to treat this as an equitable exchange; you’re learning something, they’re learning something. You’re helping them, their benefiting from your help.
It may not be as sexy as waving your hand and magically bringing them to your way of thinking.. but it’s far more effective.