Persuasion is such a vital life skill. You want something from somebody, you’re going to have to persuade them to do it.
These are situations we encounter on almost a daily basis. You’re running late and need to skip the queue. You’re caught short and need to use a customer bathroom. The restaurant’s full and you need them to make space for you.
These sorts of things seem to happen to me all the time – to the point where it’s become a running joke with my girlfriend that I’m always getting random people to do favours for me.
But why? I’ve never really thought about it before, but I think it’s time to break it down a little. Here are my tips in the hope that they help you out the next time you’re in a tight spot!
1. Ask in the first place
This really is rule number one. You don’t ask, you don’t get. I can say with confidence that the number one reason you’re not getting what you want is most likely that you don’t ask in the first place. Maybe you don’t want to make a fuss. You don’t know how the other person is going to react. You have qualms asking for something from somebody you don’t know. If you’re going to get what you want (or at least embrace the attempt), you have to change that mindset: There is no shame in articulating what you want, nor should you be afraid of taking the gamble. Indeed, I suspect that many of the kind things people have done for me over the years boil down to nothing more than having asked in the first place. That being said, there are a number of principles to bear in mind in these interactions, and that is what we’re going to look at next.
2. The approach
In any situation where the goal is to persuade, you need to bring as much warmth, energy, and openness to the interaction as you can possibly muster. A smile goes such a long way, as does noticing simple details about the person such as their name, for instance. What you want to be conveying is an authentic interest in the person themselves – after all, they’re another human being, not just somebody who can give you something you want. Throughout the interaction, you should be conveying your appreciation of that fact, and an appreciation of what they’re doing for you by complying with your request, whatever it might be. So show your appreciation – that person has just done something for you they had no need to do. Otherwise, it will be all too obvious that all you want from them is the favour, and your chances will be drastically diminished.
3. The way you ask
The way you ask when you’re trying to persuade is also a key factor. This leads back to rule number one. If you’re approaching the interaction with the mindset that you’re imposing, you’re going to be overly apologetic and ineffective. Instead, you should be approaching the interaction with a confidence and assertiveness that comes from knowing you are perfectly justified in making your request. Compare these two approaches, for instance:
“Umm…sorry to bother you, I know this probably sounds a bit cheeky, but I was just wondering if you could possibly let me through…”
“Hey John, see you’re full up in there. Really need to get in, mate – my girlfriend is waiting for me inside. You know what they’re like, she’ll kill me if I miss it. Help me out would you, I’d really appreciate it.”
See the difference? The first asker is speaking as though they are already expecting to hear a no, while the second speaker approaches much more straightforwardly.
There are some other important differences, too. For example, the second speaker is drawing on what behavioural scientists refer to as “the power of because.” Crucially, he is providing a justification for compliance with his request, which has shown to be a critical part of persuasion.
Notice also how the second speaker has incorporated the elements of the approach we outlined in part 2: He assumes familiarity and builds rapport through the use of the person’s name and familiar terms such as “mate”; he relates to the individual in his justification – asking John to sympathize with the situation of having a girlfriend waiting inside and encouraging him to imagine himself in the same situation; and he shows John his appreciation in granting his favour and helping him out.
So which speaker do you think is going to be more successful?
There concludes my round-up of everyday persuasion principles – I hope you’ll have a crack at putting them into practice next time you get a chance! Do bear in mind, people are complex individuals, and you can’t always get them to do what you want them to do. Accept that fact. However, you’re always entitled to make the attempt, and in that I hope that this guide will act as a useful reference!
Cambridge graduate. Writer and thinker. Life enthusiast.