9 Things the Most Influential and Persuasive People Do, Backed By Science


Some people are naturally convincing. The rest of us have to learn to be more persuasive. Here’s how.

Think about all the extremely successful people you know. I guarantee they’re incredibly good at selling themselves, selling their ideas–in short, they’re incredibly good at persuading other people.

Maybe that’s because selling is the one skill everyone needs to be successful?

But being persuasive doesn’t mean you have to manipulate or pressure other people.

At its best, persuasion is the ability to effectively describe the benefits and logic of an idea to gain agreement–and that means we all need to be more convincing: to persuade others a proposal makes sense, to show stakeholders how a project or business will generate a return, to help employees understand the benefits of a new process, etc.

And that’s why the art of persuasion is critical in any business or career–and why successful people are extremely good at persuading others.

How can you be more persuasive?

1. Start by gaining small “wins.”

Research shows–yep, more research–that gaining agreement has an enduring effect, even if only over the short term.

2. Take strong stands.

You would assume data and reasoning always win the day, right? Nope. Research shows humans prefer cockiness to expertise. We naturally assume confidence equates with skill.

3. Adjust your rate of speech.

There’s reason behind the “fast-talking salesman” stereotype: In certain situations, talking fast works. Other times, not so much.

Here’s what one study indicates:

  • If your audience is likely to disagree, speak faster.
  • If your audience is likely to agree, speak slower.

Here’s why. When your audience is inclined to disagree with you, speaking faster gives them less time to form their own counterarguments, giving you a better chance of persuading them.

4. Don’t be afraid to be (appropriately) “unprofessional.”

Take swearing. Cursing for no reason is just cursing.

But say your team needs to pull together right freaking now. Tossing in an occasional–and heartfelt–curse word can actually help instill a sense of urgency because it shows you care. (And of course it never hurts when a leader lets a little frustration or anger show, too.)

5. Know how your audience prefers to process information.

A fellow supervisor used to frustrate the crap out of me. (See? That swearing thing works.)

I was young and enthusiastic and would burst into his office with an awesome idea, lay out all my facts and figures, wait breathlessly for him to agree with me…and he would disagree.

Every. Freaking. Time.

After a number of failed attempts, I finally realized he wasn’t the problem. My approach was the problem. He needed time to think. He needed time to process. By demanding an immediate answer, I put him on the defensive. In the absence of time to reflect, he would fall back on the safe choice: staying with the status quo.

6. Share the good and the bad.

According to University of Illinois professor Daniel O’Keefe, sharing an opposing viewpoint or two is more persuasive than sticking solely to your argument.

Why? Very few ideas or proposals are perfect. Your audience knows that. They know there are other perspectives and potential outcomes.

7. Focus on drawing positive conclusions.

Which of the following statements is more persuasive?

  • “Stop making so many mistakes,” or
  • “Be much more accurate.”

Or these two?

  • “Stop feeling so lethargic,” or
  • “Feel a lot more energetic.”

While it’s tempting to use scare tactics, positive outcome statements tend to be more persuasive. (The researchers hypothesized that most people respond negatively to feeling bullied or guilted into changing a behavior.)

So if you’re trying to produce change, focus on the positives of that change. Take your audience to a better place instead of telling your audience what to avoid.

8. Choose the right medium.

Say you’re a man hoping to convince a man you don’t know well, or even at all. What should you do? If you have a choice, don’t speak in person. Write an email first.

As a general rule, men tend to feel competitive in person and turn what should be a conversation into a contest we think we need to win. (Be honest; you know you do it sometimes.)

The opposite is true if you’re a woman hoping to persuade other women. According to the researchers, women are “more focused on relationships,” so in-person communication tends to be more effective.

But if you’re a guy trying to convince another guy you know well, definitely communicate in person. The closer your relationship, the more effective face-to-face communication tends to be.

9. Most of all, make sure you’re right.

Persuasive people understand how to frame and deliver their messages, but most importantly, they embrace the fact that the message is what matters most.

So be clear, be concise, be to the point, and win the day because your data, reasoning, and conclusions are beyond reproach.

 Jeff Haden

Contributing editor, Inc.

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