What’s the difference between persuasion and manipulation? Someone once made the distinction by saying manipulation is when people visibly comply with a request or demand, but they’re unwilling or resentful. Persuasion, on the other hand, is when people do what they are told or asked willingly, with no resentment. (See Dr. Robert Cialdini’s books on persuasion and influence.)
For example, let’s imagine I approach a stranger and tell him I was out of money and very hungry. I then ask him if he could give me ten dollars to buy some lunch. This man may choose to give me the money out of pity and because he wants to feel good about himself for helping someone out. If he gives me the money willingly, you could say I persuaded him to give it to me.
Now, let’s imagine I went up to another guy and told him I would beat him up if he did not give me ten dollars. If this guy gave me ten dollars, you can’t really say he was persuaded. He was intimidated or compelled to give it to me. He gave me the money unwillingly. I manipulated him to give me what I wanted, but certainly not what he really wanted.
Everyone needs to persuade other people. A baby persuades his mother to pick him up and feed him. Children persuade parents or teachers and vice versa. Job hunters must persuade recruiters and hiring managers to interview them and present a job offer. Sales professionals try to get people to purchase products or services. Political candidates try to persuade voters for their support. Even representatives of non-profit organizations need to persuade donors to sponsor their work or charity.
As you work to develop higher paying skills, you should learn how to effectively and appropriately influence other people. This lesson will discuss what effective persuasion is and how you can employ a simple pattern to persuade others.
What is Persuasion?
Persuasion is communication meant to influence people to believe or do something willingly. It’s presenting someone with reasons and incentives for taking action. Getting people to do something if they are unwilling or resentful is not persuasion–that’s called compulsion or manipulation. Manipulation is defined as, “controlling by artful, unfair, or insidious means especially to one’s own advantage.” (From Webster’s Encyclopedic Dictionary.)
Have you ever been lured into buying something you really didn’t want? The crafty salesman may have congratulated himself on making a sale and earning a commission. However, he failed to realize the damage his reputation (or his company’s reputation) suffered by tricking you into a purchase. The skill you need to develop is not some trick to get people to do what you want. The truly valuable persuasive skill you need is the ability to influence people to get what they want–what is really in their best interest.
People seem to be increasingly aware and resistant to any sales or psychological “trick” that is used on them. Although we may not understand the approach being used on us, we sense when we’re being manipulated or influenced against our own wills. At the same time, we appreciate being told about opportunities or beneficial products and services. We prefer to be in control of our own decisions and how we spend our time and money.
As you work to develop your persuasive abilities, you must always allow your respect for people’s autonomy to override your desire to make a point or close a sale. While you may have to delay or sacrifice what it is you want from this person, it’s the best option for building your professional reputation and self-respect.
Types of Persuasion
In European and American cultures, many persuasive approaches originate from Ancient Greek philosophy. Aristotle classified persuasion into three different categories:
- Logical: Rational arguments or reasons presented to convince people of some opinion or fact; appealing to thought or reason. Use facts, figures and data.
- Emotional: Appeals to affection and feelings in order to influence people; communication intended primarily to evoke sentiment like sympathy, fear, excitement or desire. Use stories, portraits or anecdotes.
- Authoritative: Appeals to position, power, or credibility in order to influence other people. Use quotes, your own credentials, or credentials and authority of other people.
Which one of these is the best approach to use when you’re trying to persuade people? It depends on the person and the circumstances. If you cannot determine whether a person or audience is more logical or emotional, then use a combination of these types of persuasion to generate the most influence.
Why People Do What They Do
Think about your motivation for anything and everything you do. Your motivation will fall into one of these simple categories:
- You do it because you want to get or keep something good, profitable, or pleasurable.
- You do it because you want to get rid of or avoid something bad or painful.
Remembering this will not only help you persuade other people, it can also help you motivate yourself.
Challenge 1: Watch Commercial TV
Spend a few hours watching TV, but instead of trying to avoid commercials, pay special attention to them. Answer these questions: What is each commercial trying to get you to do? What problems are they claiming to solve? What persuasive approaches are they using to convince you?
How to Persuade People
There are many different approaches for persuading people. The route you take depends on whom you’re talking to, what it is you are convincing them to believe or do, and what the costs and risks are for doing what you ask. What follows are some critical elements you need to understand and apply as you try to persuade people. This information is based (loosely) on Monroe’s Motivated Sequence.
- First, persuade yourself. In all the sales books and sales training programs I’ve read (and written), I’ve never seen a persuasive approach that begins with convincing yourself first. If you are sincerely convinced of the benefits of a product, service, course of action, behavior, or decision, then your ability to get someone else to agree to that increases many times over.
The latest trend in selling or influencing people isn’t really a trend at all; it’s being honest and transparent! Before you ask someone else to do something, ask yourself if it’s in their best interest, or your best interest. Perhaps it’s something that is in both of your best interests; a win-win! Before you ask them to purchase anything, ask yourself if you would buy that product or service at that price. Before you ask for a job or promotion, look at yourself objectively and determine if you’re truly qualified for it.
- Get their interest. Once you’ve convinced yourself of the benefits of what you’re trying to persuade someone else to do, begin by getting their interest and attention. Getting someone’s attention can be tricky because you must usually interrupt whatever they’re doing. What you offer them had better be more important than what they were doing to begin with. You need to consider who they are, what they’re interested in, and what channel of communication you’re using to connect with them.
The basic rule to follow for getting someone’s interest and attention is to present some benefit right up front. As Dale Carnegie taught, “Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.” Get their attention by sharing a relevant story, or, ask a question they can’t resist answering like, “What don’t you like about your job?” Or ask, “If money was not an issue, what would you do with your time each day?” Here’s a question you can ask someone who owns their own business: “How did you get started in your own business?” To discover their needs, ask “What problems are you and your business dealing with right now?” The key here, is that you get others’ attention by giving them your sincere, undivided attention. Get them interested in what you have to say by talking about what they have to gain.
- Identify a problem or opportunity for them. When you listen to what people have to say–as you identify what motivates and concerns them–you can understand their problems better. The more familiar you become with their industry or personal goals, the more influence you can have with them. What is causing them pain and difficulty in their careers or business? What opportunities and payoffs are available to them? Some examples of identifying a problem or opportunity for someone else include:
– “There are a lot of companies in this industry that aren’t profitable right now.”
– “You will never be happy working in this position for that amount of pay.”
– “You seem like you would be happier if your business was making a little more money.”
– “You could earn better income if you learned some other skills.”
– “Getting into arguments with other team members certainly won’t help your career.”
When you identify a problem or opportunity for someone you’re trying to persuade, it introduces a feeling of “cognitive dissonance.” It creates a desire to get something good or avoid something bad. Describing problems or opportunities that someone faces sets up a feeling of expectation in their minds. It positions you to explain solutions and potential opportunities for them.
- Present a fulfillment to their wants or needs. Show how your skills, your company’s products or services, or a change in someone’s behavior will help them get what they want or need. This is where you need to present your logical, emotional, or authoritative information to convert them to your proposed solution. An effective approach is to ask them how they think your solution will help them solve their problem or fulfill their needs. They essentially convince themselves at this point. They persuade themselves more effectively than you ever could!
- Get people to commit and take action. When someone seems convinced that what you’ve offered or proposed can get them what they want, invite them to take action. It may mean asking them to work on changing their behavior, purchasing your product, or signing a petition. Tell them exactly what they need to do and ask them to make a verbal or written agreement to do it. This is called “closing the sale.”
List some other ideas about how you could persuade someone to do something. Remember that just getting people to do something isn’t persuasion if they comply resentfully. Think of the last time someone persuaded you to do something. How did they do it? When was the last time you persuaded someone else to do something and why did it work?
Think of some people whom you need to influence, then work through these questions to prepare an effective persuasive approach:
- Whom do you need to persuade or influence?
- What do you want them to do or believe?
- How will you get their attention and interest?
- What is the problem or opportunity that they face?
- What solutions will you propose?
- What commitment will you have them make?
- What actions do they need to take next?
So a few important points to remember as you work to develop your persuasive skills:
- Speak to their heads. Give them sound, logical reasons for making a certain choice.
- Speak to their hearts. Include a sympathetic description of those things which are causing them pain and trouble.
- Sincerely describe how their choice to do what you ask (or purchase what you offer) will bring them more peace of mind and pleasure. Provide vivid details about potential benefits.
- Think of persuasion as helping people get what they want instead of getting them to do what you want.
- The most persuasive approaches include logical, emotional, and/or authoritative information.
- You need to be persuaded of something yourself to effectively (and ethically) persuade anyone else.
- An effective approach to persuading people involves getting their attention and interest, describing a problem or opportunity, presenting a solution or fulfillment, then giving them a chance to take action.