Persuasion 360: How to Get Agreement Up, Down and All Around

How do you persuade more than one person at a time? You need to acknowledge group decisions don’t get made in group settings.

Think about that: It’s counterintuitive but inescapably true. Groups hear and discuss, sometimes debate and argue, but they seldom decide as a unit. Rarely will you find a single decision maker. Rather, multiple decision makers — often including but not limited to the budget manager, a hierarchical leader and an informal leader — are involved in the final decision.

Thus, you need to appeal to fiscal prudence, leadership responsibility, charisma or all of the above. Group meetings must be augmented by one‐on‐one meetings to gain support and woo true decision makers. Consider yourself a congressional lobbyist, but one with scruples and a good cause.

You don’t need unanimity or an overwhelming mandate to generate group agreement; you need critical mass. Consensus is something everyone can live with, not something everyone would die for. With that in mind, focus on the pragmatism of the numbers. That means “being right” in your own mind isn’t good enough.

The Psychology of Self‐Persuasion: The First Person Who Needs To Say ‘Yes’ Is You

Whether it’s chasing a new job, requesting a plumb assignment or making a budget pitch to your board of directors, we all talk to ourselves before we take action. Many psychologists have labeled this ongoing mental dialogue “self‐talk.”

These internal comments impact thoughts, emotions, actions and ultimately careers and life itself. The following quote, attributed to everyone from Mahatma Gandhi to Ralph Waldo Emerson to the president of a leading supermarket chain, illustrates this cause and effect:

Watch your thoughts, they become words;
Watch your words, they become actions;
Watch your actions, they become habits;
Watch your habits, they become your character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.

The point is made even more elegantly in one of my favorite books of all time, As a Man Thinketh, by philosopher James Allen, published just after the turn of the 20th century and reprinted many times. It may very well have been the first “self‐help” book.

“Man is made or unmade by himself; in the armory of thought he forges the weapons by which he destroys himself,” Allen wrote. “He also fashions the tools with which he builds for himself heavenly mansions of joy and strength and peace.”

What are you building?

Photo by Thomas Leuthard

Jim Morrison Was Right: People Are Strange

Jim Morrison, late singer for the iconic Sixties rock band The Doors, wrote a song with that line and that title for the group’s 1967 album, Strange Days. Why are people strange? Because we’re all different, that’s why. In some cases, we’re very different.

The people you’re attempting to persuade — your targets — all possess personality, gender and generational differences. Your persuasion success is built on understanding and tapping into these diverse differences and preferences. Such differences impact how you behave, what sort of case you make, the language you use and the references you choose.

Here are six persuasion points to consider:

  1. People either have a tendency to ask or tell, to respond or not. On which personality plane is your target operating?
  2. Every generation has a different frame of reference. For Millennials, a “45” has always been a gun and never a record, and Elton John was never a rock star.
  3. Men and women operate differently. Acting as if they don’t is just silly.
  4. When responding to a particular situation, act like a chameleon and be ready for whatever comes your way.
  5. Technology changes quickly, but people don’t.
  6. Ask yourself, “If others knew what I was trying to do, would they let me?” If you can respond with a “yes,” that means you’re headed in the right direction.

The more you know about your targets, the less strange they will seem.

Men, Women and the Truth: What You Need To Know To Hear ‘Yes’ From Both

Men and Women

Remember that old “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” shtick? What did that really mean?

Here are 10 ways, based on real science, to help you break down gender differences in everything from networking to negotiating:

1. Men often overstate their abilities; women understate them.

Do your best to find the truth somewhere in the middle.

2. To men, “help” is a four-letter word.

Don’t give it to them unless they ask.

3. Men buy; women shop.

Keep that in mind when determining how slow or fast you should move.

4. Gender behavior is based on brain structure and body chemistry.

Differences in estrogen, testosterone and oxytocin affect moods, behaviors and decisions.

5. Gender behavior changes with age.

As men and women get older, testosterone and estrogen levels decrease respectively. This results in women becoming more assertive and men more accommodating.

6. Men decide; women ruminate.

After making a decision, the male brain shuts off. Female brains, however, continue to worry and second-guess. So when a female colleague says, “I’ll have to think about it,” that usually means she does need to think about it.

7. Women are better at negotiating for a group; men are better at negotiating for themselves.

Think about this when appointing project leaders.

8. Women tend to avoid conflict situations; men tend to avoid emotional scenes.

Again, this is an important consideration when assigning tasks.

9. Women respond better to stories than facts.

It may take you longer to state your case, but that’s not the point.

10. Women have better peripheral vision and will most likely notice that family photo on your desk.

What better way to get to know your new boss than having her ask about your spouse and kids!

(Photo by flashcurd via

Why You Should Salute When You Hear ‘No’

I’m often asked how many times someone should attempt to persuade another person before acknowledging a “no.”

Now, you shouldn’t ignore that “no” or refuse to hear it. But you also shouldn’t easily give up.

My typical response to the above question has come to be known among clients as “the platinum rule of persuasion,” because it works so well: Take two shots, and then salute.

What do I mean by this? If your target says “no” once, reformulate and try again. If, after your second attempt, the target’s response is still “no,” salute and move on.

Of course, I’m not suggesting you actually engage in the physical act of saluting. And I certainly don’t want you to flip the one-finger salute! But a salute in its most traditional form is a display of respect.

In persuasion situations, a “salute” should be an acknowledgement of your target’s opinion and an expression of gratitude for listening to your pitch: “I value your input and respect your decision. Perhaps we can revisit this topic again in the future. For now, though, thanks for your time and consideration.”

You can try again some other day.

How (Not) to Ask for a Raise

How many times have you been tempted — or actually attempted — to finagle a raise by either using other people as a measuring stick for why you’re underpaid, focusing your attention on annual reviews or just outright asking for more money?

That doesn’t work, does it?

My best advice for getting a raise: Don’t ask at all.

Rather, determine which factors or objectives your boss — the person who has the power to approve or deny a raise — values the most. Is it a stated mission to improve market share? Or is it a subtle desire to be promoted to company vice president?

Then, on a consistent basis, produce results that support your boss’s high overt or covert priorities. Continually develop ideas that help your organization conquer emerging markets, for example, or arrange for your boss to regularly look good in front of his boss by maintaining strong sales numbers, landing a major client or creating a new program.

In other words: Make his priority your priority, and good things will happen for both of you.

Remember, your boss has company money that can be moved around, and although he’s unable to print money, he can redistribute existing funds. You want to prove yourself to be of such personally vital value that you become a higher priority — and, as a result, dollars are shifted to you from somewhere (or someone) else.

Apply the law of the farm: Plant, nurture, and voila, you will reap what you sow. It’s all about performance — not begging or whining.

Use Your Eyes to Hear ‘Yes’ More Often

Considering how many scientific studies have been devoted to eyes over the past three decades, perhaps they truly are the windows to our souls.

As far back as the 1980s, researchers have claimed that people perceive individuals who engage in eye contact as more trustworthy and likable than those who don’t. When you’re in the process of persuading someone, making eye contact with that person helps him or her better process your sales pitch, your terrific idea or your request for more time off.

Research reported by The New York Times and Psychology Today suggests other reasons why, when it comes to persuasion, the eyes have it:

  • A genuine smile can be detected by the narrowing of the eyes, creating lines at the outside corners. People who “fake smile” don’t have crow’s feet.
  • Dilated pupils indicate interest. When dilation happens in the person your attempting to persuade, you’ll know you’re closer to hearing “yes.”
  • Eye contact clears the path to enhanced and more meaningful conversation, because the two of you are now connecting on a stronger level.

Two caveats:

  • Some scientists claim the use of smiley faces and other emoticons in email and text messages is an attempt by the sender to make “eye contact” with the recipient. Scientists also say that approach doesn’t work.
  • Sometimes when engaged in the process of lying, people try too hard to deceive and make too much eye contact. When telling the truth — which should be all the time, especially when in the act of persuading — look but don’t stare.

Remember: The eyes really do have it.

Let’s Get Serious About Humor in the Workplace

Have you — or, worse, do you — work in an environment void of humor? That’s too bad, because the right kind of funny business can keep your business sharp, creative and, well, fun.

Here are three tasks that humor in the workplace can accomplish:

1. Humor can aid in problem solving.

Humor relieves some of the tension and tendency to assign blame. Instead, it places an issue in perspective. When you laugh, you’re under less pressure and more likely to consider facts and opinions in the absence of prejudice.

2. Humor can lower stress levels.

Reducing stress, especially in tense work environments, is invaluable, because stress inhibits talent, accentuates emotionalism over logic and limits empathy. (For your consideration: The largest expense for organizations is absenteeism, the largest cause of absenteeism is illness and the largest cause of illness is stress.)

3. Humor can generate interest in you and your ideas.

Most healthy people like to laugh and are attracted to people who make them laugh. The more people you can draw to you in a positive dynamic, the more people who will be open to your ideas and more likely to consider them.

What won’t humor do? Well, it will not accomplish these three things:

1. Humor will not overcome polarized opinions.

The Hatfields and McCoys were not about to be calmed down with some ironic banter or shrewd displays of sarcasm. Note how political campaigns have become increasingly and disturbingly vicious and personal, and humor is employed to degrade, embarrass and undermine opponents. Bullying, in person or in writing, often uses humor to savagely attack the victim.

2. Humor will not create value where none exists.

If you don’t have a sound business case, value proposition, mission statement, beliefs set or message, humor will not serve as a substitute.

3. Humor will not enhance credibility.

You’re not credible because you’re funny; you’re funny because you’re credible. People who think they’re funny but aren’t engage in loud and profane behavior, are stuck on one issue or perform tired gags, and we don’t like them.

Bottom line: The more credibility you have, the more likely your style of humor will be accepted in the workplace.

(Photo by Ryan McGuire via Gratisography)

How Color and Taste Impact ‘Yes’ and ‘No’

Did you know that the type of beverage you drink, the surface of the chair on which you sit, and the color of clothing you wear all play a role in getting to “yes” (or “no”) faster?

Thalma Lobel, a Ph.D. and director of the child development center at Tel Aviv University, claims that decisions, judgments and values are derived as much from outside factors as they are from our brains.

In her 2014 book, Sensation: The New Science of Physical Intelligence, Lobel provides scientific evidence of how targets respond to common situations that, on the surface, appear insignificant. Here are just a few examples:

• People drinking warm beverages such as coffee or tea are judged by their targets to be more generous, caring, and good-natured than those enjoying such cold beverages as soda or iced coffee. The concept of “warm” and “cold” extends beyond the drink and transfers to the individual drinking it.

• That “warm/cold” mentality is at play in other facets of our lives, too. Take the chair you opt to sit in while making your pitch. Studies suggest harder chairs make people tougher negotiators, while softer chairs reduce their aggressiveness. Hmmm. Maybe you should add a soft and comfy chair to your office for guests…

• Researchers found that men consider women who wear a red blouse (opposed to a blue, green or gray blouse) consistently more attractive. Red represents strength, power and energy. Wear it when you need to hear “yes.”

What are some sensory indicators that help you hear “yes” more often?

(Photo by Ryan McGuire via Gratisography)

man selling advice

Are You Made to Persuade? A Self-Test

Successful peuasion requires intellectual heavy lifting. Understanding your target, knowing how to increase the value of your offering, choosing the right words and determining the timing of your persuasive efforts all are prerequisites of effective persuasion.

No approach or technique can guarantee persuasion success, but there are ways to determine if you are, indeed, made to persuade.

In professional settings, persuasive people are:

  • Assertive: Inclined to be bold and self-assured.
  • Empathetic: Possessing the ability to see the world from another person’s perspective.
  • Communicative: Adept at applying verbal and nonverbal communication.
  • Tenacious: Extremely persistent in adhering to or accomplishing something.
  • Resilient: Possessing the ability to recover quickly after hearing “no.”

A Self-Test

Rank yourself in each area based on the descriptions below:

1. Assertive

Low: You rarely ever raise a new or contentious issue with others.

Medium: You regularly speak out in meetings and present cases for your statements.

High: Others might describe you as hard-headed or strongly opinionated.

          Low                                      Medium                                                 High

            1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          102. 

2. Empathetic

Low: You rarely consider another person’s perspective.

Medium: You easily determine when others want or don’t want to continue a conversation.

High: You’ve cried tears of joy at another’s success.

         Low                                      Medium                                                 High

            1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10

3. Communicative

Low: You tell everyone the same thing, the same way; you also send a lot of group emails.

Medium: You can explain most things to most people.

High: You intentionally vary both verbal and nonverbal approaches to suit your audience.

          Low                                      Medium                                                 High

            1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10

4. Tenacious

Low: You try to convince people of an idea, but you’re not going force them to agree with you.

Medium: When you want something, you’ll keep trying to get it for a good long time.

High: You hold on to your positions and objectives forever.

           Low                                      Medium                                              High

            1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10

5. Resilient

Low: When people say “no” to you, you feel personally rejected and depressed for days or weeks.

Medium: When rejected, you feel down, reflect on what happened and then move on.

High: Nobody likes to hear “no,” but you quickly shrug it off and move forward.

           Low                                      Medium                                               High

            1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8          9          10

Interpreting Your Results

Doing well on this self-test isn’t about scoring 10 in each area; it’s about possessing the right blend of these important behaviors of persuasive people.

A strength overdone is a weakness.

Let’s say you have great voice inflection and people find you an engaging and persuasive public speaker. Go too far with that voice inflection, though, and you’ll sound like a crazy — and not-at-all-convincing — late-night infomercial host.

Here’s my take on the optimum score for each essential behavior of persuasive people:

Assertiveness: You should score around a seven here. You certainly can’t be devoid of assertiveness and still be considered persuasive; at the same time, if you gave yourself a 10, you might have already crossed the line from assertiveness to aggressiveness.

Empathetic: An eight is great. You can’t be tone-deaf to the other person’s needs, but you also shouldn’t make your objectives completely subservient to your target’s every whim. You want to put yourself in the other person’s shoes temporarily; you don’t want to live there.

Communicative: This is where you want to hit the persuasive ball out of the park. Communication skills are crucial. What you say, how you say it, where you say it, when you say it and what you’re wearing all count. You want to be at your best, using both verbal and nonverbal communication to suit the message needs of your audience in much the same way a chameleon changes colors depending on mood and circumstances.

Tenacity: This one might surprise you. To be a persuasive professional, you only should score about a five or six on the tenacity scale. If you hold on to your ideas too tightly, you may quickly establish the reputation of someone who is unreasonable or obstinate. The key to knowing when you’ve gone too far is the ability to decode corporate-speak. When people start telling you they “like your passion,” that’s code for “We think you’ve lost your mind.” When you hear that, ease off the throttle.

Resilient: You need to score around a nine here, because you will face a lot of rejection in your career. No one hears “yes” all the time, so you better learn how to handle “no” appropriately. If someone doesn’t like your suggestion for the new marketing campaign, and you sulk about it for weeks as some sort of personal condemnation, you’re setting yourself up for a brutal existence. I’m not suggesting you be completely unfazed by rejection, either; that sort of momentary unhappiness can stimulate you to reflect and make important and necessary adjustments to your approaches. But the key here is taking action after hearing “no.” Do you get back to work quickly? People who score a nine in resiliency do.

It’s important to understand that your ability to improve is not based on some sort of inherent genetic disposition. You don’t need to be born with a silver tongue in order to be successful at persuasion. 

(Photo by Ryan McGuire via Gratisography)