How To Be Persuasive

If your subject isn't prepared to comply, neither are you.

How to be persuasive?

The golden rule for being persuasive is surprisingly basic:

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

While this might sound straightforward, there are some caveats.

Never suggest anything to anyone who isn’t yet ready to comply. Anyone can ask for anything, but persuasive people work their targets thoroughly before even attempting to close them.

So, how does this work?

Pre-Suasion — Priming and Framing

Contrary to popular belief, being persuasive is never about coaxing anyone into compliance. Because that’s manipulation, not persuasion.

In 1984, Robert Cialdini wrote 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, Pre-Suasion: 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”.

But what does it mean to try and change someone’s state-of-mind before changing their mind?

Two central concepts in persuasion is priming and framing.

Priming — the process of getting an audience “ready” for a specific message.

Framing — formatting your message appealing to your audience in context.

In ordinary life, the “easiest” way to prepare someone to be persuaded is to get into a casual conversation; you need to figure out how the person you wish to persuade would reply — without asking the actual question and putting them on the spot. Get to the bottom with how they feel and try to figure out how their reasoning mechanisms work.

Preparation, Cold-Reading, and Investment

Preparation. Persuasion is more about prep work than most people realise.

Never make the ask until you’re absolutely sure about getting a positive response. If someone’s not ready to comply yet, then listen even more closely for what it will take for you to succeed and start over. If the person you’re trying to persuade aren’t prepared yet, then neither are you.

Cold-Reading. Being able to tell when someone is ready to comply is a skill.

The true superpower is to develop a sixth sense for when someone is ready to “play ball.” 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).

Investment. Compliance comes at a cost on your part; are you willing to pay it?

Every time you try to persuade anyone of anything, there’s a “cost” to you. It could be pride, time, money, energy — or something else. Part of being persuasive is being able to figure out the “cost of compliance” without making the actual ask — and then determine if it will be worth the effort. Don’t fool yourself; if you’re not willing to pay the price, then walk away.

The Ethics of Persuasion

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

You should aspire to be a master persuader, not a manipulator.

Until you can clearly see the benefits for the person you want to persuade, you’ll remain unfit to persuade anyone of anything.

Cover photo by Jerry Silfwer (Prints/Instagram)


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Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, aka Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Communication Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

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