The art of persuation


‘At the end of reasons comes persuasion’ 

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Persuasion is the process of presenting an idea that does have the ability to move, provide motivation towards action and even create behavior change. One of the core aspects of persuasion is the very ability to create a context, or even frame the conversation in such a manner that finds favor with the audience and makes them receptive to the offer! It is important to get their attention, ensure the message is processed in the way it is intended to be; and that it relates to the recipient of the message by way of their desires, goals and motivations.

We are all interested in ourselves and one the first things to learn is how to consistently talk to people about their favourite subject that is they themselves. When we get people to open up about themselves, it creates trust and a much greater openness to what we have to say.  By framing the message that appeals to their self-concern, effective communicators do create a feel-good environment that facilitates a smooth exchange of ideas.

There are two ways in which we process a message – spontaneously and thoughtfully.

Spontaneous Processing is quick, direct and often involves immediate action on the message; Thoughtful Processing is more controlled and involves a careful cognitive detailing of the meaning of the message.

In the Spontaneous Message Processing, we often focus on what is enjoyable, or attractive, or even has a feel-good effect, rather than on the message itself!  We tend to like things more when we are in a good mood and persuasion is particularly effective when people are happy!

On the other hand, Thoughtful Message Processing has the ability to change attitudes and behaviour on a long-term basis. It occurs when we think carefully about how the message resonates with our own beliefs and values. It involves a more meticulous consideration of the validity of the persuasion attempt. The greatest upside of thoughtful processing of a message is that it bolsters strong attitudes, which can be resistant to counter-persuasion. 

The route that we need to take to deliver a message that is persuasive needs to be chosen on the desired final outcome. That is to understand whether we want our audience to feel good and act in the moment; or whether we need them to make deliberate choices that can change deep seated attitudes and behaviour. 

Influencer Mechanism

According to Robert Cialdini, the author of ‘Influence’, humans are hardwired towards reciprocity. It is compelling for us to want to do something for others, when they have done something for us! It is an inherent part of our evolutionary DNA to help each-other out to be able to survive as a species. This idea can be leveraged by providing small gestures of consideration towards others, where they may be compelled to return the favour. We in turn can build our circle of influence by adding value to people in many ways, big or small. 

The other factors that create influence and do have an ability to persuade people are by way of consistency and persistence. When we deliver consistently in a way that matches people’s expectations or even exceeds it, there is a trust that is created in our abilities. People like to work with those who are reliable. Persistence is the ability to stick to your ideas, endeavours and message in the face of resistance and compelling failure! Persistence, self-belief and the ability to rise against failure generates passion that can set the wheels of change into motion. 

However, beyond the framing, passion and then messaging, one the most important attributes to create influence and have the ability to persuade is expertise. People engage with those who are known to be an authority in their area of experience. It is important to establish credibility through knowledge, ability to innovate and offer better opportunities for people to make good decisions. It is important to let people know of our abilities at the outset of building a relationship so that they have enough clarity about their expectations on how we could solve their problems!

Flexibility in Approach

Being flexible in our approach and behaviour also makes people favourable towards us. The greater our repertoire of behaviours, the more power of persuasion we can posses. We should have the ability to infuse energy in people with our behaviours to be able to motivate and invigorate them. It could be through a simple eye contact, energetic verbal responses, or even active listening. Simplicity in communication is also at the heart of the art of persuasion. We must be able to explain our concept or point of view to a young child, who can then communicate it effectively to an adult. 

Ultimately, the most compelling and attractive qualities in an influencer are confidence and certainty. If we believe in what we do, we will be able to persuade others to do what is good for them as well. The human brain is designed to respond to confident opinions of others when making decisions. 

Remember, influence is our inner ability to lift people up to our perspective, and as author Laurie Buchanan said, “Never underestimate the influence you have on others”.

Let us look at how the art of persuasion works considering an Entrepreneur mindset:

Many entrepreneurs are so passionate about their new startup idea that they cannot believe any intelligent being; investor or customer would not react just as excitedly after a quick brief. They do not even realize that they can often kill their credibility and then future opportunities by communicating only with passion, responding with a cynical comment or worse giving up too soon!

The art of getting others to see and visualise things as you see them usually is called ‘persuasion’  is a key one for entrepreneurs, and it needs to be honed from the first day that you formulate your very new idea!  You have to persuade the right partners to join and build the solution, the right investors need to fund it and the right customers have to buy it. Good marketing is after all a subset of these efforts and skills.

The psychology involved in winning over others has been studied and preached for generations and continues to evolve even as our culture changes. Aspiring entrepreneurs not only need to study all of these but also need to learn from the pragmatic practices and tactics of successful peers and business advisors!

So, let us look at key factors which determine the same:

1. Repetition is the key in getting people’s attention.

Many entrepreneurs assume that their passion will cause their message to immediately stand out above the din of today’s information overload.  Please understand that most people today have developed filters to ignore unsolicited inputs until they have heard it several times in both written and verbal form.

2. Suggest the message in a context important to the receiver.

Tune in your message to each receiver’s situation or context. Avoid abstract or technical declarations that may sound like an effort to impress or mislead your audience with your proclaimed intelligence. Use specific value propositions rather than blurry terms like easier to use, better and faster.

3. Use contrasting story scenarios to exemplify the impact.

Stories are more convincing than simple statements of fact. If you can integrate the receiver directly into the story, the potential impact will be far greater. The power of contrast, or the side-by-side comparison of outcomes, is an effective mover of people from old beliefs to new ones.

4. Personalize your message to match the receiver background.

Whether you are approaching investors, partners or even customers, you need to first listen to find a personal intersection of interest with your idea. If the person happens to be creative plus intuitive, do not hit them with a logical plus analytical message. Establish a relationship or better still do some homework first!

5. Use your friends and advisors as the very sources of warm introductions.

Everyone is prone to listen and even believe new people brought to them by someone they know in common, especially if that connection has strong relevant experience or even expertise. Even if it takes longer to organise such a meeting, your credibility and dependability gain plus impact may be well worth it!

6. Materialize and transpire your idea into a prototype or demo.

People put far more credibility into something they can touch and feel, versus just words and some arm waving. Please understand what you are visualizing in your mind’s eye is not obvious to others, especially investors who will most likely not have your depth of expertise in the product domain you represent!

7. Present concrete evidence of interest and excitement from others.

Social media is a very powerful tool for testing your idea at a minimal cost and even at a risk with a huge potential for spreading plus amplifying your message to the right people. The evidence of 1,000 people responding positively to your message is much more effective than you alone pitching for it.

In the end, the most convincing evidence of a great idea to investors and partners is business execution traction. They want to fund and work with people who are willing and able to move an idea into an execution phase. Ideally, that implies that a solution has been built, with a proven business model, and real customers have paid a full price with high customer satisfaction!

No doubt, all entrepreneurs have to start at the beginning with passion for an idea. Then comes in the hard part of convincing others that the idea has the same merit you see, by persuading others to join in. Then comes supporting your own effort and ultimately persuading customers to buy! This makes persuasion the most important skill you need to succeed in business.

Persuasion is not a science but an art

William Bernbach
Trishna Patnaik
Trishna Patnaik
Trishna Patnaik is a BSc (in life sciences) and MBA (in marketing) by qualification but an artist by choice. Previously a corporate professional, she realised that she wanted to do something more meaningful. She found her true calling in her passion, painting. Trishna is now a full-time professional painter based in Mumbai, as well as an art therapist and healer.

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