How to persuade others?


The Art of Persuasion

A child wants to know the reason for things:

"What makes the sky blue?” “How did I get here?” “Where do the stars go during the day?” “What are you doing?” “Why this?” “Why that?” When he gets his answers, he is satisfied. No persuasion needed."

Later on he asks,

"Why can’t I have more candy?” “Because you’ll spoil your supper. Candy isn’t a balanced food. It’s bad for your teeth. Too much isn’t good for you.”

He gets his answers, all solid reasons.

But this time he is not satisfied.

Why not?

Because now it is not a curious mind that is involved; rather, an emotional desire.

He does not want answers.

He wants candy.

You may give reasons, but you probably do not persuade him by explaining that it is not good for him.

How many five-year-olds care about what is good for them?

For that matter, many adults do not care what is good for them either.

They know the hazards of smoking, for example.

The evidence mounts daily, and examples of those who defy it are buried in cemeteries daily.

Nevertheless, millions of otherwise intelligent persons ignore reason and continue this practice that is hazardous to their health.


Simply because they want to.

Can they be persuaded to stop?

Can the child that wants more candy be persuaded to limit himself?

To persuade others to change an opinion or a practice is not just a simple matter of giving them reasons to change.

The art of persuasion involves much more.

Dealing with emotional barriers

First, it is important to know the reasons people have for clinging to wrong ideas.

See beneath the surface.

Are they uninformed, only partially informed, or misinformed?

Oftentimes their position is based solely on emotion.

If emotion is involved, reasoning alone will not persuade.

Early in the conversation try to discover the real basis of their belief, and tailor your words accordingly.

If your beliefs are based solely on emotions, you will have little to offer in your defense.

Moreover, you will not be strongly anchored in your own mind.

Your own thinking will be swayed only by emotional appeals.

It is therefore important to know your subject matter well before trying to convince others.

Many know just one side, their side.

It is all they are interested in.

They read the writers that agree with them.

They listen to the speakers that confirm their convictions.

They believe what they want to believe, and listen to nothing that might rock their mental boats.

But if you are to be persuasive, an important requirement is for you to know the facts.

All of them, pro and con.

If you know only the arguments for your case, you are vulnerable, even though you are convinced it is right.

The opposition will come along and punch holes in all your arguments!

But now, presume you have not committed this folly.

You are ready.

You have researched the question.

You know your side.

You also know the other side, and how to refute the arguments for it.

You come to grips with your adversary.

You open up with two of your best points.

He is hard-hit, flushes, but strikes back with an argument.

The words are hardly out of his mouth before you have smashed them down and unloaded two more strong points.

He is getting angry.

He is on the run.

He cannot answer.

He gets mad and starts to yell.

You won!

No! you lost.

You lost him.

You were trying to win him over to your side, but you have alienated him and hardened his heart against you.

You had the right answers, but you served them to him in a way he could not stomach.

When arguing, people usually blind themselves to facts unacceptable to them.

So, when strong emotional barriers exist, you cannot persuade an individual to change his position until they are removed.

Therefore it is prudent to discern what is the emotion in each instance that blocks persuasion.

Is it pride, prejudice, self-interest, desire for group acceptance?

Or does he reject the truth because it is unpopular, or would curtail fleshly pleasures, or would bring obligations?

To discern the cause, let him talk.

Only after discerning this, can you know if it is worth trying to persuade or if it would be best done some other time, when the emotional barriers are non-existent.

Don't put others on the defense

Do you like to be criticized, shown up as wrong, forced to change?

Even when deep inside we know we are wrong, it is difficult to admit it when the one opposing us is blunt and dogmatic.

We react defensively, justify ourselves, try to save face.

But it is not so difficult if our opponent listens to us, understands our side, agrees where he can, and shows some flexibility in his own thinking.

What if he says to us:

I may be wrong on that point. However, I think these others I mentioned are true, but I could be mistaken. Why don’t we go over the facts once more and try to get the right answer? I’m sure you’re reasonable, and I hope I am. Now, we both agreed on this fact. How do you think it fits in with this other point?”

He continues with questions that draw us out.

Now we are not feeling challenged or under attack.

We open up our minds, begin to think objectively, and weigh points we had previously overlooked or rejected.

In the end we may even think we have discovered the new answer ourselves, or at least feel we shared in its discovery.

What is the lesson therefore? It is that we must treat others in a loving way, if we hope to convince them that their views are wrong.

Our presentation should be guided by genuine love for the one we are persuading.

By making it as painless as possible for him, you will persuade others to accept your view of matters.

Use illustrations

Illustrations are an important tool in persuasion.

By dramatizing a point they make us see and feel. They stir us emotionally.

Consider the question raised at the outset:

Can the child that wants more candy be persuaded to limit himself?

Picture this, he goes to the circus, and is awestruck by the trapeze artist high above who hangs head down with a strap in his teeth.

The other end is clenched in the teeth of a woman as she spins like a pinwheel, colored spotlights playing on them all the while.

The boy can hardly contain himself!

He’s going to be an aerialist!

“Takes very good teeth.” His father shakes his head, dubiously.

“Mine are strong!” The boy’s eyes are shining.

The father thinks a while, then says:

Milk builds teeth that can grip like a bulldog’s! I guess that man and woman drank lots of milk when they were kids.” He then looks at the boy: “I don’t know . . . you like candy . . . don’t drink too much milk.”

Nothing more is said, but from then on the boy drinks a lot of milk and seldom begged for candy.