Blog PostsMedia SciencePersuasion & PropagandaHow to persuade anyone of anything

How to persuade anyone of anything

How do you persuade anyone of anything?

At the risk of making you disappointed, dear reader, the golden rule for persuading anyone of anything is surprisingly basic:

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

While it may sound easy, there are some caveats.

So, how does this work?

Presuasion — priming and framing

Persuasion shouldn’t be 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, 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”.

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

Therefore, 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. Get to the bottom with how they feel and try to figure out how their reasoning mechanisms work.

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, most importantly, no-one is being put on the spot.

Preparation, reading, and investment

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.

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 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).

Preparation — persuasion is more about prep work than most people realise.

Reading — being able to tell when someone is ready to comply is a skill.

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

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.

Photo by Wil Stewart on Unsplash.


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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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