One of the best ways to persuade others is with your ears – by listening to them – Dean Rusk
- There’s no one-size-fits-all technique for influencing people
- You can influence people in three different ways that don’t exclude each other: Logically, emotionally, and collaboratively
- Just learning some techniques isn’t enough. You need to prepare properly
- The most persuasive person is the one who is willing to keep going
- Learn to empathize and take the view of other people
- Develop a strategy and identify which technique(s) might work best
- Be persistent, but don’t just apply the same improper strategy again and again
Every day we exert influence on others: when we’re asked for our opinion, when we agree or disagree with something, when we lead by example, when we argue with someone, when we ask a (critical) question, etc.
Influence is something we learn in childhood. It takes place in families, among friends, in communities, at the workplace, at school, and in society more broadly.
However, most of the time we’re influencing indirectly and doing it more “by accident” than intentionally. Additionally, in many situations, we even don’t want to influence others.
But then again, there are situations in which we’d love to find an easy way to convince or persuade a person.
BTW: The difference between persuading and convincing is that convincing is about making somebody or yourself to believe that something is true and persuading is about making somebody doing something.
Just remember the last time you had to work in a team.
When it comes to team-work, there’s always someone doing something in a way you don’t want her/him to do it. Maybe this person doesn’t meet deadlines, works sloppily, doesn’t contribute enough, is over-engineering, etc. If you want this person to be on time or work cleaner, you or someone else have to persuade her/him. That might be annoying and that’s the reason why many people don’t like to work in a group and feel like working alone is more efficient and convenient.
But there’re many more situations in which you convince or persuade someone, for instance, your parents when you wanted to stay longer at a party, your siblings when you wanted them to do you a favor, your boss when you applied for a job, your friend when you wanted her/him to join you for a party, etc.
Influencing is a skill that can be learned just like any other, and it’s a key part of being able to achieve your goals and objectives.
In this article, I want to share with you my experiences and advice I collected over the past few years after applying the recommendations of Dale Carnegie’s How to win friends and influence people and many other great authors writing about this topic. However, I won’t give you the perfect formula for influencing every person out there and this is more about the general approach of exerting influence than a detailed technique manual.
3 Influencing Tactics: The Head, The Heart, The Hands¹
First of all, a basic theoretical framework. People are all different but similar.
You can influence people in three different ways that don’t exclude each other and work best in combination:
- Through facts and logic ⇒ logical (Head)
- Through appeals to values and beliefs ⇒ emotional (Heart)
- Through support ⇒ cooperative (Hands)
The Head: Logical influencing tactics address people in a rational or intellectual way. Arguments and information such as facts and figures are brought forward in the best interest of the person. This is pretty much self-explanatory.
The Heart: Emotional influencing tactics connect the communication or decision to a person’s feelings of well-being or sense of belonging. The leader’s persuasion skill appeals to attitudes, values, a common purpose, ideals, and beliefs through inspiration or enthusiasm.
For instance, your mom or dad smokes and you want her/him to stop. You know that your parents always wanted to be great grandparents. So, you tell them that they might be a bad role model for your kids, that they might die early because of cancer, that you feel worried about their health. It’s not about the facts, but the feelings. It’s very likely that they will live till your kids are grown up. But the feeling of not being able to care for their grandchildren might be a factor so strong that they’d consider stopping smoking.
The Hands: Cooperative influencing tactics involve seeking advice and offering assistance. The goal is to reinforce the connection that you have with the others through focussing on a mutually important goal.
For instance, you want your roommate to do the dishes. Find a common goal that is related to that chore. You both might want to live in harmony, respect each other’s freedom and space, and have a good time living together. So, you ask her/him first, if there is something you can do to make the co-living better. Most likely the answer will be “everything is fine”, and you’ll be asked if you feel so too. Then you start by pointing out some very good things you like about living with this person together and why you like it so much (live in harmony, have a good time). Ask him/her if s/he agrees with what you said and if s/he can relate. And eventually, you raise your concern, explain to her/him that there is one little thing that you’d really appreciate if it’d be done differently: the dishes. Most likely this person justifies why the dishes weren’t done and explains some reasons and that from now on this will change. Tell her/him that you’d greatly value it. Most likely, this person won’t still do the dishes all the time the way you want it. Yet, you shouldn’t criticize from now on, but every time this person does the job right genuinely praise him/her. And slowly but surely your problem will be solved.
Each person has a preference for how they would like to be influenced. Selecting the best influence tactic is important to achieve the desired outcome with a person or group. You need to understand the way others want to be influenced and apply the right tactics to influence them.
Preparation is key
Now we know some basics about influencing others. Just learning some techniques, though, won’t really help you to achieve your goal. If you really want to persuade or convince someone, you need to prepare properly: get to know the other person, know what s/he wants, understand and empathize with them, and find a common ground.
The more you know about a person, the more you will know what s/he cares about, what goals s/he wants has, and how badly s/he wants to reach those. This means that you first need to listen. Most often people are really easy to influence because they actually want it too, but there is an obstacle (their ego, pride, ignorant beliefs, bad experience, etc) hindering them to do/believe something.
For instance, ask your teammate why s/he is always late to meetings and misses deadlines (of course in an emphatic manner). Try to view the situation from her/his perspective. In school, people most often told me that they felt too dumb or that they couldn’t contribute as much as others or that no matter how much they’d contribute, it wouldn’t change something in the outcome of the group work. And that’s pretty much everything I needed to know. From this moment, I saw my duty in encouraging this person to share and commit, value her/his opinion, and let her/him take responsibility, accountability, and credit. Of course, they didn’t change their mind/behavior immediately, but slowly and surely they did it.
If you know why a person behaves and feels the way s/he does, you often intuitively know exactly what influencing tactic you can use to change his mind/behavior. Most people are born with this ability, you just need to harness this skill and exercise.
Think about what tactic(s) you can apply. Can you influence through logic (head), through emotions (heart), or through collaboration (hands)? Which combination would work best?
Prepare arguments and facts in case of a logical person. Listen carefully, empathize, relate, and identify the underlying emotions of the beliefs and behavior if you assume influencing by heart would work best. And search for common goals, ways you can help a person and how s/he can help you, and think about great agreements that benefit both of you if you think you can influence the other person the best through collaboration.
Persistence and consistency
Human beings are imperfect creatures. We all make mistakes. We all think and behave irrationally from time to time. We all have weaknesses. And we all don’t want to feel attacked and stupid.
When you aim at convincing/persuading a person, you should expect the two following things:
- People have an inherent resistance to change (status quo bias). Although people might benefit from changing their beliefs, decisions, or behavior, they are often reluctant to change. Thus, don’t expect others to change their mind/behavior after trying to influence them the first time.
- People often don’t even act according to their own beliefs. No matter how strongly you instill a belief in someone, there’s no guarantee that s/he will act according to it.
Persist, Persist and Persist Some More
If you’re unsuccessful, don’t resort to arguing. Instead, let the situation go, recollect yourself, refine your strategy, and try again at a later time.
The most persuasive person is the one who is willing to keep asking for what they want, even when they keep getting turned down. No world leader would have gotten anything accomplished if s/he would’ve given up at his first rejection. Persistence often leads to a win if you time it correctly and take the right approach.
Circumstances often change, so regularly reaching out to people who have previously been reluctant can mean a change of heart.
Being persistent, though, doesn’t mean to just apply the same improper strategy again and again. You need to refine it, alter things that do not work, stay low-key, and don’t force but encourage.
Dale Carnegie’s principles on how to influence people
Last but not least, I want to give you a list of the principles that had the most impact on my life and my ability to influence others:
- Persuade a person awakening in her/him the desire to do it herself/himself
- Admit that you can be wrong and respect the opinion of others
- Talk to someone first about issues you agree on
- Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view
- Praise every success, even the smallest. Give sincere, heartfelt recognition and be generous with praise
- Challenge others to compete
- Make the other person only indirectly aware of her/his mistakes
- Talk about your mistakes before you criticize someone
The bulk of decisions are like shirts. You try one and if you don’t like it, swap it. The stakes are low, so optimize for