If I could have a superpower, it wouldn’t be the ability to fly, or turn invisible, or super speed.
I’d want the power of persuasion.
The ability to get anyone I meet to see my side of things, and do what I suggest, simply through the power of my words.
I’ll admit, that sounds a little creepy—anyone who has seen X-men or watched “Jessica Jones” knows how quickly such a superpower can get out of hand.
But still, life is easier when you’re a persuasive person—there’s no avoiding conflicts of interest in life, and knowing how to convince someone to see your side of the story can give you a big advantage.
Fortunately, you don’t need superpowers to be convincing. Anyone can learn how to be persuasive using these tactics, whether you’re working through a conflict at work, with a loved one, or simply trying to convince someone what to eat for dinner.
The power of persuasion: A brief warning
Before we dig into the best persuasion techniques, here’s something to keep in mind:
There’s a fine line between persuasion and manipulation.
There will most certainly be moments in life when you truly need to persuade someone of something, but you should be doing so because you truly believe that the outcome you want is in everyone’s best interest.
The only form of ethical persuasion that exists is when the goals of the persuader are aligned with the goals of the persuaded.
—Tristan Harris, technology ethicist
If you are trying to convince someone of something purely out of your own self-interest, with no care for how it may impact others, you have slipped out of persuasion territory and into manipulation—and that’s never a good thing.
So before you start putting these persuasion techniques into practice, pause and ask yourself:
- Why am I so eager to persuade this person?
- How will they be impacted if I get my outcome?
Sit with these questions for a while, and if you come to the conclusion that you are indeed doing this out of everyone’s best interest, you can start building a persuasion strategy using the methods below.
Instead of demanding it right now, find the best moment
They say timing is everything in comedy, and the same is true when it comes to persuasion.
So much of persuasion involves thinking about the other person or people you’re hoping to convince. You must consider how they feel and what they’re thinking at any given moment, and how long they may need to process your arguments.
They may be facing environmental or physiological obstacles that will prevent them from being persuaded. It’s much easier, for example, to persuade someone who has a full stomach, rather than someone who is already cranky because they want to eat. (Save your persuasive argument for when dessert has arrived at the table.)
You have the day off of work tomorrow, and you’ve got a great idea—you finally want to go visit that art exhibit across town with your best friend. Your friend has been a bit resistant to the idea—she’s not sure artwork is worth the long subway trip.
You know tomorrow’s the perfect day to go, so you FaceTime your friend at 10 p.m. and pitch your idea the moment she picks up.
Unfortunately, you didn’t realize she’d had a terrible day at work, and has to go back into the office first thing in the morning. She hasn’t had a chance to eat dinner, and all she wants is a few hours of rest. She tells you to forget about the exhibit altogether and ends the call abruptly.
In this case, the timing couldn’t have been worse. The friend may have been open to the idea if you’d caught her at a better time, on a better day—and if you sweetened the deal with something, like a trip to her favorite restaurant on the way to the museum.
Instead of focusing on what you want, focus on what you offer
When you want something badly, it’s hard to think about anything other than your ideal outcome. But focusing too much on what you want can easily derail your hopes of persuading others.
Strong persuasion isn’t about convincing someone to do what you want—it’s about showing them that agreeing with you will benefit them. Once they can see that, it will be as easy as pie to get them on your side.
Before rushing into a persuasive conversation, ask these two questions:
- What beliefs or fears are stopping this person from agreeing with me?
- What benefits does my ideal outcome offer this person?
The answers to these questions should be the center of the discussion.
You’ve been at your job for nearly a year, and while you like it for the most part, you’re frustrated that you haven’t received a promotion or a raise. The pay isn’t great, and if something doesn’t change soon, you’re going to look for another job.
You’ve brought this up with your manager a few times, but he doesn’t seem open to the idea. He argues that your duties haven’t changed, and that the company policy is to give a raise at the two-year mark.
Before your next meeting with him, you make a list of benefits he will see if you’re given more responsibilities (and paid accordingly).
You remember your boss is often complaining about how much time he spends preparing slides for his many meetings. You love making slides, and you realize that you could take over that work as part of your new title.
Now, you have a new negotiating token that is tailored to your boss’s wants and needs, and he’s far more likely to agree to a raise once he knows you’re offering a clear, concrete way to improve his daily life.
Instead of making the same offer to everyone, find a way to create scarcity
Creating scarcity with your offer, whatever it may be, is one of the best ways to convince people to take action. When people think that whatever you’re offering might go away if they don’t act quickly, they’ll be spurred into action (instead of mulling their options and shopping around).
This persuasion tactic is pulled from the marketing playbook—you’ve probably fallen victim to it before. Think about the last time you rushed to buy a concert ticket because you were afraid they’d sell out quickly. Or perhaps you’ve purchased something that was on sale for a limited time—even though you weren’t 100% certain you wanted it.
But this tactic can be used outside of marketing and business as well.
You’ve been wanting to go on a beach day trip with your mom for weeks, but unfortunately, she’s got a very busy schedule. She definitely wants some time with you in the sun and surf, but her work won’t let her get away.
It’s now late August, and you take a look at the weather forecast. There are thunderstorms predicted next week, followed by cool temperatures that surely suggest the start of autumn.
You approach your mom one last time, and when she protests, you pull out your phone and show her that your time to go to the beach is truly limited. Seeing that if she doesn’t act now, the beach day may never happen, she agrees to put work aside for a day to head to the shore.
Instead of relying on your own word, use social proof as backup
You may have an incredibly persuasive argument planned, but sometimes, your own word just doesn’t cut it. This is particularly true when you’re trying to convince someone you don’t know very well. Why would they trust your word, if they know nothing about you?
This is where social proof comes in—using the words and affirmations of others to help your persuasion target trust that you will make good on your end of the deal.
Social proof can come in many forms: In casual conversations, ask mutual acquaintances to back you up. In the working world, enhance your resume with recommendations from esteemed, trustworthy people. And in business, use things like reviews, case studies, and testimonials to show your worth to customers.
You’ve just launched a career as a graphic designer, and you’re hunting for your first clients. The only problem is, there are so many talented graphic designers out there who have portfolios far more extensive than yours.
You spend a few days reaching out to your past clients from your previous jobs, and your old manager too. You politely ask them each to provide you with a quote about the positives of working with you, and get their permission to publish these quotes on your website and social media pages.
Now, when you approach new clients who don’t know you, they’ll see that several others have had wonderful experiences with you. This may be just the bit of social proof you need to build the foundation of a customer base, and every time you finish a project, you are sure to ask for a testimonial to add to your list.
Instead of being humble, present yourself as an expert
Modesty has its time and place—no one likes a braggart or show-off. But when it comes to persuasive tactics, being overly humble can work against you, because it undermines any argument you make.
While you don’t want to be cocky, you do want to present yourself as an expert. Your ability to convince someone of something hinges on whether you can demonstrate that you know best. Being coy about your experiences, achievements, and expertise won’t convince anyone.
Your friend group is planning a vacation together, but everyone has a different idea about where they want to go. One person wants a tropical getaway, another wants to do some urban exploring, and others want a ski cabin adventure.
You’ve got your own opinions about what you should do, but more than anything else, you want to convince your friends to be happy with whatever the ultimate choice is. So you take an hour to put together a spreadsheet, outlining everything from the cost of flights to the average weather for each potential destination.
You post a link to the spreadsheet on the group chat, with some insights on what you found looking into all the data. Your friends realize you really are the expert in this situation, given your research and organizational skills. They agree with your analysis, and you’ve laid the plans for a truly happy group trip.
Instead of acting on emotions, anchor yourself with kindness and empathy
It’s not uncommon for persuasive conversations to get heated. They’re often centered around a conflict, and when two people are convinced they are the one with the right answer, it can escalate quickly.
It’s very rare for someone to be convinced when they’re being shouted at—in fact, it’s more likely they’ll dig their heels in the ground and refuse to compromise.
If you feel tension rising during a persuasive conversation, it’s best to step away and refocus. Give both yourself and the other person some time to breathe and reflect, and come back with a different approach.
In such cases, remember the rule of reciprocity—people are far more likely to do something for you if you’ve already done something for them in return. Tap into your empathy to discover what your partner truly wants and needs, and find a way to give that to them to help them get on your side. This works a lot better than a shouting match.
Your favorite band is coming to town, and you really want to go to their concert with your significant other. The problem is, they don’t know the band, and they aren’t frequent concert-goers.
You bring up the topic one day over dinner, and somehow, it escalates into an argument. Your partner points out that when they wanted to go to the pop-up cupcake shop together, you turned them down without even considering it.
Rather than continuing the argument, you pause and suggest you both take a moment to think things over. You go for a walk, and consider how your partner must have felt when you vetoed the cupcake shop… and that baseball game… and the baby shower…
Now, you can come into this conversation from a place of empathy. You express to your partner your new understanding of their perspective, and promise you’ll go with them on the next adventure they want. (And because you’re a good partner, you keep your promise!)
Finally feeling understood, your partner agrees to try out the concert. You both got what you want, and instead of arguing all night, planned several excellent dates together.
Instead of offering one option, create an anchor option and build from there
Sometimes, you can build a persuasive argument simply by changing the way you present options to your partner.
When you offer someone a single option, there’s no wiggle room for them to negotiate or argue their side of things. And that’s likely to make them walk away. But when you give them a range of options, they will have a choice in the matter, and be far more likely to come around.
There are two schools of thought on this persuasion tactic, and in my opinion, both can work depending on the situation.
One option is to start big—offer something that seems almost ridiculous, knowing that your partner won’t go for it. You can then negotiate down to something more agreeable for both you and your partner, and they may even walk away feeling like they got a deal.
The other option is to start small, also known as the “foot in the door” method. In this case, you offer your persuasion partner something too good to resist—something that maybe doesn’t benefit you all that much.
This gives you a chance to build a deeper relationship with them, and eventually convince them to go for something bigger.
At work, you’ve got a new lead that could potentially pay off big time. It’s a large company, and they’re very curious about the products and services you sell. In fact, they’ve asked for a quote.
You know this company has a significant budget, but you have sensed that they are price-conscious and will only go with the provider that offers them the best return on investment. You have two ways to go about this:
Start Big: You come forward with an incredible package that has all the bells and whistles—and a big price tag. The client can’t afford it, but fortunately, you’ve already figured out a way to eliminate some of those bells and whistles to arrive at a price that works for both you and the client.
Start Small: You suggest a trial period with the client—you’ll give them two months at half price, and if they like your services as much as you say they will, the price will go up to your base rate. The client has nothing to lose on this deal and signs on, and two months later, they’re so thrilled with your work that they’re happy to pay full price.
Instead of blindsiding someone, build excitement and anticipation
With this persuasion technique, you can win someone over before the conversation really starts. This is done by building anticipation for whatever it is you’re pitching—whether that be a new product, a policy change at the workplace, or date night with your boo.
This tactic only works if you have some time to plan in advance. You can use this head start to think carefully about what obstacles might stand in people’s way when it comes time to make the decision. Then you can address those concerns from the start, while also touting the benefits this exciting new thing will bring.
You’re launching a YouTube channel in a few weeks, showcasing your amazing Lego collection. You’re far from the first Lego-obsessed YouTuber to hit the scene, so you face an uphill battle trying to get new subscribers (who already have their favorite creators).
Of course, you have your own unique twist—you also paint your own lego collections after their done, and no other YouTuber is doing that. People are bound to love it, but no one knows about your skills yet.
So you reach out to a few of the popular lego creators on YouTube and ask if they’d like to collaborate. One of your favorite YouTubers invites you on their channel to showcase your painting skills, and suddenly your subscriber count is climbing rapidly.
Now, you don’t need to convince people of your skills—you’ve already persuaded them by meeting them where they are and showing them what you can do.
Final thoughts on persuasion techniques
These persuasion techniques can help you get what you want—but not in every situation. Different approaches will work better in different scenarios and with different people.
That’s why it’s always good to plan ahead when it comes to persuasive conversations—which you’re already doing by reading this article. With these tactics under your belt, people will find your arguments hard to resist.