Every day, through podcasts, blogs, presentations, and billboards, we’re exposed to countless messages vying for our attention. From political arenas to personal relationships and commercial platforms, the intent is clear: to influence our thoughts, feelings, or actions. In our rapidly changing digital age, mastering the art of persuasion has become more important than ever. It’s a versatile skill, pivotal in both professional and personal interactions. Whether you want to learn how to be more persuasive and enhance your leadership influence, bolster your marketing and sales effectiveness, or simply step-up everyday conversations, these seven tactics may help.
1. Project both charisma and humility.
Confidence, supported by credibility and subject matter expertise, is at the foundation of persuasion. Charisma can help you to exude confidence and allow your expertise and enthusiasm to captivate your audience. But persuasion isn’t just about winning people’s attention – it’s about earning their trust. This is where humility – the genuine embrace of your own vulnerabilities and limitations – comes in.
When we share our authentic thoughts, feelings, and uncertainties, we nurture a relatable connection to others. In turn, this relatability fuels empathy and deepens trust – both of which can help our messages and ideas to be received with an open heart and mind.
Humility can be demonstrated through sharing personal stories, openly admitting limitations (such as acknowledging that you don’t have all the answers), or simply expressing gratitude for your listener’s time and attention. Sincerity is the only prerequisite you should bring to this persuasive technique.
2. Lead others to self-discovery.
Artful persuasion tactics aren't about force – they're about helping people discover their own reasons for changing their mind or their behavior. This concept is rooted in the self-determination theory of motivation (SDT, for short), developed by social psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan. Challenging the conventional notion that people are motivated exclusively by external factors such as rewards or penalties, Deci and Ryan suggest that true motivation comes from within.
In his seminal book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” Daniel Pink dives deeper into Deci and Ryan’s ideas, proposing that intrinsic motivation is typically a better path to sustained behavior. He recommends a persuasive tactic called "scaling questions."
Start by asking individuals to rate their readiness to make a change on a scale from one to 10, where one means “not ready at all” and 10 means “totally ready.” Then, probe their responses to encourage them to articulate their own reasons and motivations for change. For example, if a person picks a three, ask them why it wasn’t lower. If the person picked a one, ask them what it would take to turn that one into a two. Such questions get people to articulate their own reasons for doing something.
Applying this exercise during conversations with others can prompt them to uncover their own reasons for changing their mind or behavior – a true, honest persuasion tactic.
Artful persuasion tactics aren't about force – they're about helping people discover their own reasons for changing their mind or their behavior.
3. Empower your audience.
Persuasive techniques are often most effective when they empower the individual, as seen with the scaling questions technique. Another persuasion tactic that has a similarly empowering effect is to explicitly acknowledge that an individual – the buyer, client, employee, audience, or collaborator for instance – is free to make their own decision.
By stating something like “this is the action I’d like you to take, but, of course, the decision is yours”, you reinforce their autonomy and control over their choices. This can reduce feelings of defensiveness and resistance, creating a positive atmosphere for persuasion that allows individuals to feel in control of their choices.
4. Apply the commitment and consistency principle.
The commitment and consistency principle, one of six principles presented in behavioral scientist Dr. Robert Cialdini’s book, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,” suggests that when people make a commitment, they are driven by personal and interpersonal pressures to act consistently with it. Put simply, after making a decision, people are more likely to follow through with actions that align with their initial commitment.
Consider the act of soliciting signatures for a petition – encouraging someone to publicly declare their support for a certain cause, idea, or action. This simple gesture can subtly push individuals toward bolder commitments aligned with the cause, such as volunteering or donating. In a business context, this principle plays out in various ways, including:
- Opt-ins: Asking customers to sign up for a newsletter or follow a brand’s social media page is a small commitment that paves the way for deeper engagement, like making a purchase.
- Product customization: When individuals invest time in tailoring a product to their needs, they feel a sense of ownership and connection to it, making them more inclined to finalize the purchase.
Tapping into this persuasive principle means recognizing the power of initial, smaller commitments as stepping stones to more significant actions or decisions.
5. Understand cognitive bias.
Cognitive biases arise from heuristics – the mental shortcuts our brains take to simplify decision-making. These biases can shape our reactions to information, often leading to emotion-driven conclusions rather than logical ones. Two prominent biases are anchoring and loss aversion.
- Anchoring: This bias is the tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information received on a topic. For example, say a plant nursery describes rigorous upkeep for a “standard” garden border, with instructions for soil amendments, pruning schedules, and watering requirements. Then, they present a “low maintenance” alternative that sidesteps all but a periodic watering commitment. Customers will likely “anchor” to the premise that garden borders require arduous maintenance and will gravitate toward the easier choice, even if it’s pricier. Another common use of anchoring as a persuasive tactic is showing the “full price” versus “our sale price” to make the latter seem like a better deal.
- Loss aversion: Eliminating the risk of losing something is often more attractive to someone than gaining something. If you’re a financial advisor, you may have an easier time convincing a young client to choose riskier, high-return investments by highlighting what they stand to lose if they opt for more conservative choices, rather than what they might gain from riskier ones. Persuasion tactics like the phrase "limited-time offer!" use this bias to create a sense of urgency, motivating individuals to take immediate action.
6. Presenting? Use Monroe’s "motivated sequence."
Seeking a persuasive presentation structure? Consider Monroe’s motivated sequence. The brainchild of the late psychologist Dr. Alan H. Monroe, a noted speech professor at Purdue University, this five-step approach is designed to move audiences to action.
- Capture the attention. Begin with an engaging hook that grabs your listeners right away. Whether it’s a brief story, a startling statistic, a powerful quote, or a provocative question, make sure your intro compels listeners to lean in.
- Establish the need. Explain why there’s a problem that needs to be addressed. Why should your audience care? You want them to think, “This matters to me!”
- Satisfy the need. Tell your listeners how you’re uniquely positioned to fill that need. This is your solution to the problem or issue that requires attention.
- Visualize the results. Help your listeners visualize the benefits of adopting your solution or proposal. Then, help them see the downsides of inaction. Your aim is to make them think, “This is a great idea.”
- Ask for the action. Clearly outline the action you want them to take. You want them to decide, “I want to do this. Show me how to get it.”
7. Sharpen your communication style.
Monroe’s sequence can help ensure that your communication is clear, concise, and focused. Beyond content structure, persuasive communicators use several speaking techniques to increase their powers of influence.
- Rhyming: Psychologists Matthew McGlone and Jessica Tofighbakhsh, in their study called “The Rhyme-as-Reason Effect,” found that people perceive rhyming phrases as more accurate and trustworthy than non-rhyming ones. Rhymes require less cognitive effort to remember, and the brain seems to love shortcuts in decision-making. Consider crafting your key points or requests using rhymes or alliteration.
- Repetition: Reiterating key points increases their importance in the listener’s mind. By echoing your message at different intervals and through various mediums, you can increase its chance of being retained and accepted.
- Strategic pauses: Silence is golden in the art of persuasion. Intentional, strategic pauses can create anticipation, encourage reflection, and prompt the other person to fill the void with their own thoughts or agreement.
Together, these tactics can create a compelling and persuasive communication style that not only captures attention but also enhances retention and preserves the influential impact of your message.
The Bottom Line
Understanding the art of persuasion can help you be a more effective communicator and bolster your chances of business success. It’s vital to view these tactics as enablers to achieving a mutually beneficial outcome, and not as tools for manipulation. The art of ethical persuasion hinges on evoking transparency and integrity in order to build trust.
A version of this article was previously published on August 21, 2014.
Photo: Getty Images