There’s no doubt about it: the ability to successfully persuade others is a helpful tool in business. A persuasive leader or salesperson has an easier time getting the job done and has more fun doing it.
So what can you do to be more persuasive? No, you don’t have to completely change your personality or turn to voodoo.
As it turns out, there are several tried-and-true—and simple—techniques for persuading others. Read on for some helpful tactics to use when you absolutely have to hear “yes.”
Tell a real story
People pay good money to be entertained and understood. If you can weave the ability to do both into your professional life, persuasion will come naturally.
Annette Simmons, founder of Group Process Consulting, believes there is nothing as powerful as storytelling when it comes to influencing our fellow humans. “People are more likely to say yes to someone who really gets them,” she explains. “It helps if you know how to demonstrate your empathy with a story. For instance, when a person is worried about price, I might tell about a boss who once intimidated me into buying a low price/low quality option, but later when it failed I was the one with egg on my face, not him.”
A good story connects you to your audience. It shows your willingness to step back from the situation at hand and see it from a wider perspective—theirs. An engaging story loosens defenses and can lighten the mood. It establishes trustworthiness, and even makes the storyteller more likeable.
If you’re looking for a meaningful story to tell during the course of your workday, think about times in your life when you’ve felt a strong emotion. Chances are good there’s a story there.
Think reciprocity and value
People generally return favors or gifts and repay in kind what someone else has freely given to them. When it is in your power to start this excellent chain reaction, do it.
“The most effective tool and tactic I use to get people to say yes more often is by providing value first,” says John Huntinghouse, a content marketer in Salt Lake City. “Listen to them to figure out what problem they may be facing, then solve that problem completely with no strings attached. Not only will they say yes the next time you need something or help, they'll go out of their way to offer their help before you even ask.”
By constantly helping others reach a goal, you can break through the noise and get the attention of influencers in your industry as well as potential clients.
“We often do this by providing our customers with free how-to guides and resources on running their events business, because these small gifts build up a feeling of reciprocity with the prospect and make it more likely that they will return the favor by purchasing our software,” says Jeff Kear, owner of Planning Pod.
Have a plan in place for how you’ll provide value and that “yes” will follow in its wake.
One excellent way to approach a tricky persuasion situation is to go in with lots information. Do your homework.
Lynne Eisaguirre is a workplace expert, former employment attorney and author of six books on workplace topics, including The Power of a Good Fight: How to Embrace Conflicts to Drive Productivity, Creativity, and Innovation.
Her advice? “Prepare—know your limits and research what might be those of the other side. Be pleasant and persistent. Tenacity works.”
As an example of this strategy, Eisaguirre points to the disastrous first few months of her office lease. “The promised IT expertise wasn't available, phones did not work, and so on,” she says. It became clear that Eisaguirre had a difficult persuasion task on her hands: getting her landlord to reach a fair settlement to account for all the trouble.
“Initial discussions about the problems with my landlord resulted in an offer on his part to reduce my lease by $100! I maintained my calm demeanor and did not laugh but let him know that was totally unacceptable. I then submitted a written history of our relationship, detailing all of the problems and telling him that his offer was not accepted. Much back and forth ensued but he eventually agreed to settle by reducing my rent during that period by 50%.”
Not all persuasion situations can be dealt with by telling a good story or by building friendly rapport. When push comes to shove, make sure you know your facts. Be consistent and firm to get the results you deserve.
One of the most fundamental rules of communication is that people trust conclusions they come to by themselves far above anything pointed out to them by someone else, explains John Golden, best-selling author, sales expert and CSO of Pipeliner CRM in San Diego.
“If you are in a profession that requires persuading people to take action—such as sales—then the best way to ‘persuade’ someone to buy your product is to have them come to the conclusion themselves that they need it,” he says. “This outcome will not be achieved if you simply point out ten reasons why they should buy your product. Far more effective is for you to ask insightful questions about their business that help them look at their problems and opportunities in new and perhaps surprising ways.”
Engage in a discussion where the buyer does most of the talking. Ask clarifying questions that help the buyer start to arrive at the conclusion that action needs to be taken.
Ed Wertheim is the Associate Professor of Management and Organizational Development at the D'Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University and a professional mediator. He suggests asking questions about why the response was “no” in a courteous way, and gives the following examples: “Help me understand why I can’t get an upgrade,” or, “Are there situations where you grant this request...”
Provide a choice
Sometimes it is necessary to persuade someone to do something in a hurry. The “illusion of choice” tactic is particularly effective if the stakes are small and you need a quick decision. Parents of small children will recognize this technique.
Jonathan Lee, a professional development coach and host of the A Player Podcast explains how this works: “If I want to make a meeting with someone on Tuesday instead of asking if Tuesday works, I'll say, ‘I'm free Tuesday, does 1 or 3 work better for you?’ Now it seems like they have a choice but the choice is merely about when the meeting will happen, instead of if it will happen.”
One of the best ways to build a relationship with someone you’re trying to persuade is by genuinely trying to see something from their perspective. What do they need? What is it that’s making their day particularly challenging? Is there something you can do to make their job easier or their business more profitable?
“Listen to them!” says Erin Smilkstein, a video marketing expert in Pasadena, California. “Then echo what they said until you get the response that lets you know they fully believe you understand them. I wait for the ‘exactly!’ or ‘Yes, you totally get it.’ Then, I move on. Once you open the trust that you are on their team, it helps to make them secure in what you are offering. Good ones are: ‘I imagine... It sounds like... It seems like you...’”
By cultivating an authentic interest and care in others, persuasion will become a natural and easy part of your interactions with them instead of the awkward focus.