To excel at anything in life you need skill but that’s not enough. You need to work on whatever skill is most important for your potential success. A golfer works on his or her swing, putting, chipping and a host of other things. Athletes work on speed, agility and flexibility to name a few. Businesspeople work on skills such as listening, writing, and public speaking. Did you know persuasion is a skill? That’s right, persuasion is something you can learn, work on, improve upon and build. Persuasion is a multiplier because if you don’t know how to ethically and effectively persuade then skills like writing and speaking will never be as effective as they could be.
What does it take to work on your persuasive skills? There are six essentials: learn, practice, stretch, observe, communicate and feedback. Let’s look at how you can use each to improve.
Most people think they know what persuasion is but in my experience, they don’t. When I ask audiences what it means to persuade the definition I hear most often is, “to change someone’s thinking.” That may be a start but it’s usually not enough. Typically, when we try to persuade someone it’s to get them to do something.
I think Aristotle has the best definition of persuasion I’ve come across. He said it was the art of getting someone to do something they wouldn’t ordinarily do if you didn’t ask. Ultimately persuasion is about changing behavior. And here’s the good news – there’s more information available for you to learn from than you can imagine. That’s because there’s more than seven decades of research from behavioral economists and social psychologist into this area of study.
You’re reading this blog so that’s a start but I would encourage you to go further. Pick up Robert Cialdini’s book Influence Science and Practice. Pre-suasion, his latest work, is another excellent book.
Perfect practice makes perfect. Just like an athlete, you cannot expect to get better without reps. Once you’ve learned something you need to put it into practice repeatedly. If you don’t then you’re like someone who attends a seminar on healthy living but never uses what they learn to live a healthier lifestyle.
Practice is important because it’s not likely you’ll try something new when there’s a lot on the line because you won’t have confidence. People who just play golf, no matter how often, only get marginally better without practice. However, those who practice and play are the ones who see their handicap steadily go down.
This is a subset of practice but deserves mentioning by itself because of its importance. Go beyond what you know you can do. Again, that’s how athletes grow. If you don’t stretch yourself you’ll be limited to what you currently know and can currently do.
Stretching has an element of risk and reward. When you stretch yourself you do so in order to get better results. Having said that, until you perfect a skill you might fail from time to time and that’s okay. It’s all part of learning and growing.
In order to excel at persuasion, you need to hone your observation skills. This means you have to be excellent at listening and watching. What you learn with your eyes and ears opens opportunities for you to be a more effective influencer. For example, let’s say someone mentions they went to the same college that you attended, or you see a diploma on the wall. What would you do? Hopefully, you’d mention you want to the same school to engage the principle of liking. This is important because you know that principle alerts you to the fact that people say yes more often to those they know and like.
It’s not enough to know the six principles of persuasion or to glean information through your observation skills if you cannot use that information to communicate. This is where verbal and written skills can me magnified.
For example, if your product costs less than a similar product you could lure prospective customers by mentioning how much they might save. That works but the skilled persuader knows there’s a better way. The skilled persuader knows people are more motivated by what they might lose so he or she will talk about how much a prospective customer is currently overpaying.
The final consideration for building your persuasive muscle is feedback. From time to time you need to get feedback from respected sources. Getting third party advice on what you’re doing well and what you could be doing better can be massively helpful. Sometimes that feedback is from an individual but sometimes the feedback can be metrics. Simple A-B testing can do the trick by comparing the traditional way of doing things to a potential new way.
Nothing worth anything in life comes easy, especially success. If it was easy everyone would be successful but everyone isn’t. Take time to build your persuasive muscle and you’ll have a much better chance of achieving professional success and personal happiness. The research guarantees it.
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLE. His Lynda.com course, Persuasive Selling, will teach you how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.