Sometimes it’s not what you say but how you say it that can make all the difference. And sometimes it’s not what is said but who said it that makes all the difference.
I bet most of you would agree that our children are vitally important to our future. After all, at some point each of us will be retired and the fortunes of our investments and the direction of our country will be in the hands of the next generation – our children.
The late Whitney Houston said as much in her enormously popular hit song, Greatest Love of All. The song opens:
I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
There’s another well-known quote that goes like this, “He alone who owns the youth gains the future.” Any idea who said that? If you’re like most people you probably didn’t know it was Adolf Hitler. I’m guessing despite the reality that children are our future and that you might have even agreed with the quote, it probably doesn’t sit well with you now that you know who said it.
Sometimes the messenger can make all the difference! If Whitney Houston had sung, “He alone who owns the youth gains the future,” and Adolf Hitler had said, “I believe the children are our future.
Teach them well and let them lead the way,” we’d all feel exactly the opposite about the quotes.
This comes to mind because a church in Alabama used the Hitler quote on a billboard to advertise their youth group! There may be truth to Hitler’s words but no one with any gumption about how to persuade would try to use Hitler’s words in a positive way because he’s considered one of the most evil people to ever walk the planet. Would you want to send your kids to a youth group that’s quoting Hitler?
In persuasion the principle of authority tells us it’s easier for people to say yes to those who have superior wisdom or knowledge. To effectively use this principle of influence you need two things – expertise and credibility. Without both you’ll never succeed. For example, Bernie Madoff has expertise. Despite his pyramid scheme, he does know about investing. But would you trust him with your money? I hope not!
On the flip side, you probably have friends you’d trust your life with … but not your money, because they have no expertise when it comes to investing.
Whether it’s investing, taxes, legal advice, etc., we want people we can trust and those we view as having expertise if we’re to do what they suggest.
Authority can also be borrowed. When I present I use lots of quotes from well-known people. I do so for a couple of reasons.
First, if I say something, people might agree with me, but if Dale Carnegie, Ronald Reagan or Dr. Martin Luther King say it, people will more easily agree because their reputations precede them.
Second, my use of quotes shows I’m well-read and that does add to my personal authority. If people view me as well-read then they naturally assume I’m smarter for it and are therefore more willing to listen to what I have to say.
However, when I choose to use a quote I’m conscious of what it says AND who said it. Many infamous people have made true statements (even a broken clock is right twice a day!) but I would almost never use them because the reaction would be the same as your reaction to Hitler’s quote.
Here’s the bottom line if you’re looking to be a master persuader. Keep your reputation intact so people trust you and continue to develop expertise in your chosen field. When you need to borrow authority, make sure the quote and messenger will both be acceptable to your audience. Do these simple things and your ability to get to yes will go up rather dramatically.