Here’s What we Get Wrong About Persuasion

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If you work and live with others, persuasion is not a “nice to have” concept—it's essential to living a fulfilled and productive life. 

Would you not want better relationships with your family? Think about it, these are the people you grew up alongside—siblings, parents—or helped grow—teenagers. How about getting raises at work or better jobs?

Would you want to improve dealing with emotional situations? How about getting help to meet goals? In business, we'd love to find more value in the things we trade. We might want to solve broader cultural and political problems, focus on industry conflicts or work out ordinary arguments.

Power and logic can take us only so far in human affairs. In arguments and many other situations, we improve our odds by making an honest connection and addressing the other party's emotional needs and perceptions. After we move beyond that barrier, we can talk data and reason.

When we we're not just focused on getting our way, but find ways to improve the odds for everyone involved we can get more. Getting More, says Stuart Diamond, is about being creative and expanding options. It's a simple concept master negotiators know well.

What we get wrong about persuasion

Most people become aware of the power of persuasion when they're not getting what they want. But persuasion is not manipulation, it's the art of getting people to do things that are in their own best interest and also benefit you.

Even when we're working under a common goal, sometimes we meet resistance if our recommendations are not exactly what someone else envisioned. Or they may fear losing control.

Instead of trying to convince them, we might want to focus our energy and attention on the team members who are open to hear us out. Then work with them to figure out how to get the message across. 

Context and timing are other things to keep in mind. What's acceptable is relative, depending on circumstances and culture. I once was part of a team negotiating a sales and marketing joint venture in North America with a Japanese firm. Their tempo and requirements were not unreasonable, just different.

It helps to become aware of what else is going on in someone's life and environment at a particular moment. 

The more flexible we are in our approach and behaviors, the more engaged we become with the interests and issues another person is facing, the greater our ability to connect and build rapport. In some cultures, the rapport is a pre-requisite.

It may mean we need to tell the truth. Sometimes we're the ones who can't handle the truth.

We think that persuasion is a magic bullet, that it's something we do, a one and done thing. This is where we go wrong. Persuasion is a process. Our responsibility is to believe in what we're saying and doing and communicating it clearly.

The convincing happens with the other party.

Effective persuasion feels good

The most effective form of persuasion is when we make up our own mind. When people have their own reasons for doing something, not yours, they believe those reasons more deeply and adhere to their behaviors more strongly.

In this sense, all communication is persuasion―people spend zero time thinking about you and your content (or new campaign), but they want to make their choices count.

Sometimes it's the simplest things that make a difference. A better word to explain something, fewer steps (or more, as in our case) to complete a transaction, an easy way to ask a question, better preparation to address issues up front.

Listening to understand is a crucial part of communication.

Is persuasion part of your decision-making process?

To make the best possible decisions, we want to have a process that helps us filter the information and align with our values. We can use a simple framework:

  • avoid deciding on impulse
  • align value with values
  • anticipate emotion and prepare

Social psychologist Robert Cialdini found that there are six effective persuasion techniques —reciprocity, commitment and consistency, social proof, authority, liking, and scarcity.

We tend to return a favor, when we commit to something we tend to want to do it to be congruent to our self-image, people imitate other people, we tend to obey authority figures and yield to the persuasion of people we like. If we think there isn't enough of something, we want to acquire it.

Each of these techniques triggers an emotional impact to get us to act. 

Diamond drills a little deeper to help us understand how to factor in our we make decision-making process:

“If you believe that negotiations are about the substantive issues, sadly, you will be right more than you are persuasive. That means that the truth, the facts, are only one argument in a negotiation. The people and the process are much more important.

This is particularly hard for people who are focused on the substance—doctors, engineers, financial experts—to accept. But, based on research, it is true. You can’t even use substantive issues to persuade effectively unless and until the other party is ready to hear about them.”

Emotional bonds are useful in creating rapport, but when it comes to decisions, we want to focus on shared objectives. Because value never disappears, it just shifts to another place.


Getting more is about making the pie bigger, lifting all boats, and helping someone else get what they want as we get what we want.