The only way to be truly persuasive is to understand the human mind.
The human mind doesn’t work by rules of logic when it comes to being persuasive but there are rules involved when seeking to influence others.
Tali Sharot is a professor of cognitive neuroscience at University College London and her new book is The Influential Mind: What the Brain Reveals About Our Power to Change Others.
In this book, Sharot has helpfully identified 7 factors that influence our ability to be persuasive.
1. Prior beliefs
Don’t start off by telling people they are wrong. The reality is when people hear things that contradict their beliefs, their minds turn on defensive mode. So, instead, start with common ground between your position and theirs and then move on to try and influence them to your side. Once you find middle ground with your opponent you’re halfway to being persuasive.
Emotion affects judgement. One of the most persuasive ways to communicate arguments effectively is to share feelings. Emotions are contagious and by expressing our feelings the audience will empathise with you.
If the time is not appropriate to share emotion, for example, in policial or legal debate, then try to inject emotion through storytelling. Take the audience on a journey with you, help them to understand where you are coming from and by the end of your story, they should be able to take up your point of view.
A little story – hospital staff started to be electronically marked in terms of feedback. Every time a doctor or nurse washed their hands, the numbers on the board went up. Interestingly, the number of workers washing their hands increased to almost 90%. The takeaway – provide an incentive, if you want someone to do something. Whether this is following an order or following your way of thinking, be imaginative and think about how you can subtly incentivise them do it. Remember subtlety is key – nobody likes to be told what do to – and if they think they are being ordered around they are highly likely to rebel.
Former FBI lead international hostage negotiator Chris Voss says it’s critical in any negotiation to give the other side a feeling of control. And the research agrees.
So, when you seek to be persuasive, don’t order but instead, give options. Guide them towards the light and they will often believe they got there on their own.
5. Reframe negativity
People often don’t want to hear bad news and will do their best to ignore it. So, if we have to deliver bad information, we have to reframe it, as a positive. This is because when people hear positive information, they become curious and intrigued. So in effect, you are reframing the message to highlight the possibility for progress, rather than the doom.
6. State of mind
An interesting exception to the above rule. Researchers found that people under threat were far more inclined to take in negative information.
Another interesting point is that when we feel positive we are far more likely to take risks.
So the point is, align your speech with the other person’s mood. When they are low they are far more receptive to suggestions that make them feel safe, when they’re up they’ll be more responsive to riskier ideas, or thoughts.
7. General consensus
Whether it be a negative or positive consensus, if there is a following backing one side of an argument over the other, people will support the general consensus.
What that means for the power of persuasion is try as best as you can (without obviously being misleading) to frame your position as the positive and popular one as it simply gives your argument more weight.