How to Persuade People

There are times when we need to persuade others to do something. Many professions benefit from the art of successful persuasion. Marketers need to persuade their customers, teachers need to persuade the students, and leaders need to persuade their followers and convince them about their vision.

But persuading is not a simple task. That’s why it is more of an art than a set of skills that we can learn. However, here are some keys to successful persuasion.

First of all is the principle of reciprocity. You cannot get others to do something for your benefit if they don’t see that you will give something in return. In other words, you cannot merely ask and not give back. This is why you’ll get a low rate of response when you merely send online questionnaires to be filled out. But when you promise them small favor like “fill out this questionnaire and you will be entered in a list of recipients for vouchers”, suddenly you find a significant increase in the number of people answering your questionnaires.

Second is the principle of voluntary action. In some cases, people work more happily and harder when they volunteer than when they get paid. If you pay people some money for doing an activity, they will probably do it and think “I am doing this for the money.” But when you offer something to do on a voluntary basis, the people who sign up are those who think “I am willing to do this because I enjoy it.”

Third is the principle of conformity. People tend to conform to a social norm. A sign in a hotel says “77 percent of our customers reuse the towel to save the environment. Join them. Reuse the towels.” When people read this, they will feel the urge to follow those 77 percent and reuse the towel.

It is vital, however, not to confuse the last principle with a similar way which in fact will be counterproductive. This is what is called contradictory statements. If you say to people “Smokers die from heart diseases. Dont smoke”, you are actually presenting them with two contradicting statements. The first statement is about people being unhealthy, and the second is an appeal to be healthy. This wont work. A better strategy is to say “More and more people are healthier after quitting smoking. You can be healthy, too. Quit smoking.”

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