The Nature of Persuasion

At one time or another most of us have been on the receiving end of people who have tried to influence us by giving us information.  We have all experienced teachers who tried to teach us by talking at us, managers who tried to motivate us by talking at us and salespeople who tried to sell to us by talking at us.  Sometimes the succeeded but, more often than not, the results could have been better and achieved more quickly had we been actively involved in the process rather than a passive observer.  The latter, however, remains an experience with which most of us are familiar and, hence, one we find easy to replicate.

Yet trying to influence people by giving them information is rarely as effective as seeking it.  Seeking information has several benefits:

·        if people tell you what they want you stand a better chance of providing it and thereby satisfying them
·        people are more likely to accept something they say themselves than something someone else tells them

Seeking information also complies with several characteristics of people.

·        they prefer talking to listening
·        they appreciate people who listen to them
·        they are psychologically stroked by people who are interested in them

We stand a better chance of influencing someone, therefore, if we ask questions.  Questions can be used to:

·        involve the other person
·        find out what is important to them and hence how they are most susceptible to influence
·        establish in their minds, a relationship between what they want and what you have to offer

There are 2 main types of question – closed and open.  Closed questions are those that can be answered either with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or at least a very brief answer.  They generate very little information and so are best used to check facts of elicit simple data.  For example:

“Have you read the instructions yet?”
“Do you prefer the red or the blue one?”

Open questions require the other person to talk.  They are used to generate information and to probe more deeply.  They uncover information, feelings, desires and thought processes.  For example:

“What happens when you switch on?”
“How do you feel about what I’ve just said?”
“What would you like to see happen?”
Open questions begin with the following words – ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘when’, ‘how’, ‘where’ and ‘who’.

Some types of questions are best avoided.  Leading questions generate little or no useful information as, for example, when the boss asks the assembled meeting, “So do you all agree with me on this one?”  Evaluative questions communicate your negative thoughts quite clearly as in, “Surely, you’re not naïve enough to agree with that statement, are you?”

Whether you are asking some to buy something or to change to your way of thinking, you are effectively asking them to make a decision.  People make decisions more readily when:

·        they are involved in the decision making process rather than feeling that they are being pressured into it
·        the decision will benefit them in some way
·        they appreciate the full extent of that benefit

Using questions to seek information investigate each of the above points.

·        It involves people by getting them responding to you and, furthermore, it involves them in a way that avoids any hint of being pressured into a decision because they are the ones presenting the facts
·        They are also the ones who point out the benefit of making the decision and who states precisely what the decision will mean to them.

The ‘golden rules’ of persuasion, therefore, are to:

1.      Use open question to:
o       involve the other person
o       search for areas where your offering will benefit them

2.      Probe so that you and they understand the full benefits they will receive from your offering.

3.      Present what it is you have to offer in terms of those benefits.