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Learning the power of persuasion

Columnist Dave Conrad says persuasion is about making a point and getting others to see the truth and benefit of that point.

Ask Dave - Dave Conrad column mug
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Dear Dave,

I am always so impressed when I hear persuasive people speak. It seems like some people just have a gift of persuasiveness. Can anyone become more persuasive? If so, how can I learn to be more persuasive and how can I best apply it at work?

— S

Dear S,

Yes, persuasion skills can be learned. I hope I can persuade you of that fact. And, yes, some people appear to have that magical gift of persuasion, but trust me, they have worked hard at developing the ability to persuade others.

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As you have observed, being able to influence and persuade others, and to get them to believe in what you want them to, is a key skill not only in business, but in life as a whole. Simply, we only achieve real results through others and that takes effective and persuasive communication skills.

Persuasion defined

Persuasion is influence and involves getting people to accept your arguments and/or point of view in a way that meets their needs. I like that definition. Others are motivated to accept your view, because they understand and agree, without sensing coercion or intimidation, or feeling like they have been deceitfully manipulated. Also, you need to use facts when trying to persuade others. Telling lies to make your point will land you in trouble and your coworkers will find it hard to believe you again.

According to most communication experts, persuasion can be summed up as a symbolic process in which communicators try to convince other people to change their attitudes or behaviors regarding an issue through the transmission of a message in an atmosphere of “free choice.”

Whew! That is a mouthful. One of my management colleagues tells me persuasion is simply, building rapport with individuals; finding out exactly what they need; telling them how you will deliver solutions to their needs, and then doing it. People become fully convinced when they believe that what is proposed is valuable to them and they have an opportunity to get it.

Learning persuasion

Persuasion is mastery of several different traits. You need to be confident, focused and self-assured and be appealing and engaging. People want to hear rational, truthful, and credible messages from honest, sincere and trustworthy people. That’s a simple formula for success.

If you are dealing with people who are only inspired by facts and rational arguments, using straightforward logic is the best approach. However, convincing people through logic isn’t the easiest thing and will require you to do a lot of research to be thoroughly prepared to present your case. But I believe people want to hear a certain amount of credible evidence from seemingly credible people. Simply, the messenger and the message must be reassuringly truthful.

Also, emotional people — those hyper individuals whose mind is all over the place when you talk to them — can calm down and focus on your message if you are calm and can support your discussion with credible and logical evidence. I have found that emotional people tend to calm down a bit when they are listening to an interesting story. I think we all like to hear stories from people, because the stories mentally take us some place that we desire. For almost everyone, hearing and grasping a well-rehearsed story is persuasive – witness the crowd of people gathered around the guy at the State Fair who is chopping and blending every vegetable on the planet.

Here are some key ingredients in presenting a persuasive message:

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Know your facts: Be able to document any claims you make with factual data and accurate information. If you have identified the evidence, tell others what it says. But, don’t come off as a “know-it-all.”

Know your audience: What kinds of people are they? What is their current opinion on an issue or topic? How did they form their opinion? Where do they get their information? What are their own needs and interests? What arguments are most likely to persuade them?

Know how to fit the facts to your audience: Once you have your claims backed up by proof, and you know the interests and motivations of your listeners, carefully match what you have to say to what they want and need to hear.

Show your passion and confidence: Having a deep faith in the item you want to sell, or the idea or concept you want people to accept, proves that you believe in your products or ideas.

Sometimes, your own, genuine excitement in what you're selling can be the most persuasive argument of all.

So, how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice. The more you use rational persuasion principles the more influential you will become.
Contact Dave Conrad with questions or comments at conradd@augsburg.edu . Conrad is an associate professor of business at Augsburg University in Rochester.

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