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How do you persuade anyone of anything? It requires careful preparations, active listening — and good ethics.

by Jerry “Doctor Spin” Silver // Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn
Senior Digital Strategist // Spin Factory

We must all persuade someone every now and then.

And — there are thousands of techniques on how to do this in various situations:

Some techniques are about power and authority, others about psychology and behavior. Some techniques are scripts, others a matter of being persistent and not giving up.

If you’re selling fast-moving consumer goods, it’s all about placement — where is your product when your prospect happens to be susceptible to suggestion.

If you’re selling more expensive products, especially to other companies, a proven track-record might instill enough trust in your “target.”

Or, if you’re trying to win someone over romantically, body language, mannerisms, and pheromones might just get you laid.

Still — how do you persuade anyone of anything?

Here goes:

How to Persuade Anyone

At the risk of making you disappointed (and please have patience with me on this one), the trick to persuade anyone of anything is incredibly basic:

Never suggest anything to anyone who isn’t yet ready to comply.

What does this mean?

Two things:

1. Persuasion is more about prep work than anything else.

2. Being able to tell if someone is ready to comply is the real superpower.

So, let’s get into both of these:

1. Persuasive Prep Work (“Presuasion”)

In real life, the easiest way to prepare someone to be persuaded is to get into a casual conversation:

Firstly, you need to figure out how the person you wish to persuade would reply — without asking the actual question.

Example: Suggest similar scenarios and discuss pros and cons of related issues. Use if-statements and ask them, “what would they do if…”. You’re just conversing and no-one is being put on the spot.

Secondly, if your targets would say “no,” you need to figure out what their reasons are. Don’t they trust you (or your judgment)? Are they unable to see how compliance would benefit them? Are they stressed out, fearful, or in a bad mood? Maybe they just don’t like you (or whatever it is that you represent for them)? And so on.

Example: Get to the bottom with how they feel and try to figure out how their reasoning mechanisms work. Don’t just listen to what they are saying; focus mainly on body language to get a more accurate picture of their emotional stance.

Thirdly, you need to remove those obstacles through conversation before attempting to make your ask.

Example: If they have no reason to trust you, give them plenty of reasons to do so. If they can’t see any benefits they like, suggest ones they would like. If they’re fearful, instill courage in them.

We will dig deeper into this process later in the post, but for now, please note this:

Every time you try to persuade anyone of anything, there’s a “cost” to you, whether that’s time, money, or energy. Anyone can be persuaded of anything, but are you willing to pay the price?

Part of being persuasive is to be able to quickly figure out the “cost” without making the actual ask — and then determine if it will be worth the effort.

2. The Persuasion Superpower

The most common mistake in persuasion is when people make their ask early on — and then find themselves having to change someone’s “official standpoint” (which is much harder).

So, the true superpower is to develop a sixth sense for when someone is ready to “play ball.” The key to developing this superpower stems from understanding the two opposing forces at play in any decision-making process:

The positive force — People want to improve themselves and act in accordance with their self-image. They want to have better lives, learn more, understand more, and be perceived in a favorable way.

The negative force — People don’t want to take unnecessary risks or add any unnecessary complexity to their lives. They will even avoid a small loss at great cost rather than going for a small risk with a potentially huge reward.

Some people’s decisions are dictated more by the positive force, others by the negative force. It might also depend on the situation or how a person is feeling on that particular day. It’s a spectrum and most of us are at different points in-between throughout the day.

In terms of persuading anyone of anything, you need to be able to tell when both these forces are working for — and not against! — you.

The Ethics of Persuasion

We’ve already discussed the “cost” of persuading someone and that you should, if the cost outweighs the benefits, walk away from trying to persuade that person.

But there are other circumstances when you should walk away, too. You should also walk away (or reconsider your value offer) if there’s no win-win:

Persuasion isn’t about getting your targets so confused or mislead that you’re able to coax them into compliance. Because that’s manipulation, not persuasion.

Hence, if you can’t clearly see the benefits for the person you want to persuade, you’ll be unfit to persuade anyone into anything. All you can do, then, is to manipulate them.

Persuasion is about getting someone to comply because they themselves want to. A master manipulator always has his own best self-interest in mind, whereas a persuader must see the world through the eyes of others.

This is why all types of persuasion have a built-in ethical component. Even if you’re using various psychological techniques or scripts, you’re still trying to open your target’s eyes to an honest win-win scenario.

'Manipulators talk. Persuaders, they listen.' Click To Tweet

Priming Your Audience and Framing Your Message

In 1984, Robert Cialdini wrote the book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, which has since become the closest thing to a holy book for thousands marketers and communicators — especially those who work with online engagement and social media.

In his first new book in a long time, Presuasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade, Cialdini shares his science-backed conclusion that successful persuaders focus on changing people’s “state-of-mind,” long before even trying to change their “minds.”

Personally, I’ve been given masterclasses and seminars on priming and framing:

Priming is the process of getting your audience “ready” for your message. (Anyone working with email marketing knows the importance of “priming” your email list with a sequence of messages before asking subscribers to actually buy something.)

Framing is making your message appealing to your audience. (Anyone working with inbound marketing knows the importance of “framing” your message via UIX design, site structures, and call-to-actions to increase conversions.)

So, how do you practice this in your life — and in your business? By simply following these guidelines:

  • Never ask until you’re absolutely sure about getting a positive response.
  • If the cost of compliance seems too high or isn’t a win-win, just walk away.
  • Ask questions and listen; let your audience tell you how to succeed.
How to persuade anyone of anything.

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Behind the keyboard:

Jerry Silver is the author of Doctor Spin, a PR blog that's been around for 15+ years. Via his agency Spin Factory, Jerry is advising brands on how to adapt to a 'digital first' world. In 2016, Cision Scandinavia named him "PR Influencer of the Year". Jerry lives in Stockholm, Sweden with his wife Lisah, news anchor and television host, and their three-year-old son, Jack.


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