A convincing way to persuade

Like Tweet Pin it Share Share Email

If you want to be more persuasive, what’s the single most important technique you can master?

No, it isn’t knowing more about the subject than your colleagues. It isn’t even knowing more about the subject this week than you knew last week.

Nice tries, though. But evidence and logic are shaky persuaders under the best of circumstances. If, in place of evidence and logic your expertise becomes the lead story, your audience likely won’t even pay attention to your evidence and logic.

How about threats? If the behavior of our political leaders provides any guidance, threatening those who disagree with severe consequences … ranging from ostracism to physical violence … would seem to be a high-payoff strategy.

But no.

On the national stage, various forms of intimidation do seem to be effective ways to keep political kin in line on an issue-by-issue basis. And yes, intimidation can be just as effective in a business setting, so long as you remember the ROT principle from the KJR Manifesto: Relationships Outlive Transactions.

Which is to say you might win a battle … a transaction … but if you win it through intimidation you damage relationships you might need to rely on later on in your tenure, when you need allies and not just grudging followers.

So yes, intimidation might get people to parrot a particular position you want them to espouse, but you won’t have convinced them you’re right. You’ll just have convinced them you’re to be avoided whenever possible.

Or ganged up on at the first opportunity.

Maybe you should sign up for a debating society, to hone your argumentative skills.

Maybe, but I don’t think so. The point of debating is to decide who’s the best debater, not which side of an argument is more valid. I’m as happy to cede the Star Debater Award in a disagreement as I am to cede the Star Baker award in the Great British Baking Show to, well, to just about anyone.

Give up? (You might as well. I’m going to keep on writing without having heard whatever you were about to propose.)

Now this is just my opinion, mind you: One of the most effective ways to be persuasive is to be wrong.

Not wrong about the subject in question. Not wrong about any specific subject, for that matter.

See, what’s hardest about getting someone to change their mind about a subject is that when I decide what opinion to espouse on a subject, inside I invest my ego in it, while outside I stake my reputation. No matter what you say, my self-esteem is linked to my having decided well and my prestige is at stake.

Which is why the answer to this week’s challenge is to be publicly, visibly, and cheerfully wrong about something from time to time.

Change your mind about subject A and you’ll be more persuasive about subject B, not less. That’s because changing your mind without any noticeable grief establishes that it’s okay to be persuaded.

And because you’re known to change your mind in the face of new evidence and a different way of thinking about things, that also means that when you don’t change your mind about a different subject you’re more likely to be right than someone who never admits to being wrong.

Bob’s last word: The most persuasive argument isn’t “My major premise is A. My minor premise is B. My conclusion is C.” No, the most persuasive argument is, “I used to think A. Then B explained C to me, and it completely changed my thinking about this.”

Bob’s sales pitch: Looking for the perfect seasonal gift? Sorry. Can’t help you.

But if you’re looking for one of the most unusual to give someone with unusual tastes, or a way to make a statement (I’ll leave it to you to decide what statement this makes), give the gift that will make them wonder just what you mist think of them: Bob and Dave’s far-from-best-selling novel about the notorious Wisconsin Rapids elephant murder – The Moral Hazard of Lime Daiquiris.

Comments (5)

  • You just talked me out of sending an argument by email. And into buying The Moral Hazard….

  • Certainly a timely topic! I immediately thought of some online debates about current topics. Of course there is the obvious difficulty (futility?) of having any influence in an online forum. However when there is a lack of agreement of what constitutes a fact, it doesn’t seem feasible to be ‘wrong’ (“Yes, I used to believe the earth was flat, but then Jack explained space to me.”) PS I really enjoyed The Moral Hazard back when I bought it as a present to myself!

    • On the fact front, I’m starting to think every American should be required to pass a course in epistemology. Make it like a driver’s test, only now it would be a condition of posting to Facebook and Twitter.

  • A key route to persuasion is listening. People are more likely to listen to you if they feel you’ve listened to them – and that’s just one way in which listening aids persuasion.

Comments are closed.