How To Be Persuasive

If your target isn't ready yet, it's too soon to ask.

How to be persuasive?

In this article, you will get a few short and actionable insights into the mechanics of persuading (not manipulating) someone.

The “secret” is to lay the groundwork before your persuasion attempt.

Here we go:

Table of Contents

    Lay the Groundwork First

    The rule-of-thumb for being persuasive is basic:

    Never suggest anything to anyone who isn’t yet ready to comply.

    While this might sound straightforward, there’s a caveat.

    Anyone can ask for anything, but persuasive people process their targets thoroughly before even attempting to close them.

    So, how does this work?

    Pre-Suasion—Changing State of Minds

    Contrary to popular belief, persuasion is never about coaxing anyone into compliance because that’s manipulation, not persuasion.

    In 1984, Robert Cialdini wrote Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, which has since become the closest thing to a holy book for thousands of marketers and communicators—especially those who work with online engagement and social media.

    In his book Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade, Cialdini shares that successful persuaders change people’s “state-of-mind” before they even try to change their “minds”.

    Pre-Suasion - Robert Cialdini
    Pre-Suasion by Robert Cialdini.

    But what does it mean to try and change someone’s state of mind before changing their mind?

    Priming and Framing

    Two central concepts in persuasion are priming and framing.

    Priming: Getting an audience into the right state of mind for your message.

    Framing: Adapting your message to a highly specific situation or context.

    In ordinary life, the “easiest” way to prepare someone to be persuaded is to get into a casual conversation; you need to figure out how the person you wish to persuade would reply—without asking the actual question and putting them on the spot.

    Priming Wheel - Persuasion - 12 Steps
    A twelve-step program for priming (pre-emptive persuasion).

    Priming and framing are about doing your homework by getting to the bottom with how they feel and figuring out how the reasoning mechanisms of your audience work.

    Preparation, Cold-Reading, and Investment

    Preparation. Persuasion is more about prep work than most people realise.

    Never make the ask until you’re sure about getting a positive response. If someone’s not ready to comply yet, then listen even more closely for what it will take for you to succeed and start over. If the person you’re trying to persuade isn’t prepared yet, then neither are you.

    Cold-Reading. Being able to tell when someone is ready to comply is a skill.

    The true superpower is to develop a sixth sense for when someone is ready to “play ball.” The most common mistake in persuasion is when people ask early on—and then find themselves having to change someone’s “official standpoint” (which is much harder). An intuitive understanding of psychological biases will help you.

    Investment. Compliance comes at a cost on your part; are you willing to pay it?

    Every time you try to persuade anyone of anything, there’s a “cost” to you. It could be pride, time, money, energy—or something else. Part of being persuasive is figuring out the “cost of compliance” without making the actual ask and determining if it will be worth the effort. Don’t fool yourself; if you’re not willing to pay the price, then walk away.

    The Ethics of Persuasion

    Persuasion is about getting someone to comply because they want to. A manipulator always has his own best self-interest in mind, whereas a persuader must see the world through the eyes of others.

    Be a persuader. Not a manipulator.

    To Spin Or Not To Spin - Inception - Spinning Top
    To spin or not to spin. That’s the question.

    Cover photo by Jerry Silfwer (Prints/Instagram)


    Jerry Silfwer
    Jerry Silfwer
    Jerry Silfwer, aka Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.
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