Saturday, July 28, 2012

Powers of persuasion

I work a lot in the realm of communications and leadership, so of course the conversation often comes turns to the art of persuasion. As with any art, many people think they are more skilled at it than they are. I have a colleague who claims she "could sell ice to Eskimos," which is a marketing cliche that I wish would die, once and for all! The truth, as any parent can attest, is that you cannot make anyone do anything. Unless they want to.
So when I heardlatest report on NPR's "Morning Edition" last week, "Manipulating People into Saying Yes" I was intrigued. Vedantum reports that new research shows people will comply with requests you make of them, i.e. do what you want them to do, if you first make an unusual request that grabs their attention. And that makes sense, because in that initial approach you are establishing a relationship. Then your subsequent request (what you really want them to do) does not seem to come out of the blue. NPR's radio clip provides some humorously anecdotal evidence of how and why this works.

As I say to my clients and students, you can't make people do anything they don't want to -- unless they see how they would benefit. So how do we convince people of the benefit of doing what we want? Look at human nature. Many of us want to live our lives peacefully, not rocking the boat unless we have reason to. Though we may not actively go out of our way to please others, we also don't want to cause undue anxiety/draw attention/make others angry by needlessly displeasing them.

In his story, Vendatum highlights the nature of his request: "And what the unusual request gets you to do is it gets you to stop and think. And when you get to stop and think, you become much more likely then to comply with the real request." People don't want to displease him, so they do the little thing he asks. Why? He gets their attention by showing his vulnerability. He starts to break down the walls that separate him from his subject. He clearly establishes a relationships.

The lesson for us? When we jolt our conversation partners out of "auto pilot mode" and invite them to be not only in the moment, but in the moment with us, we have taken the first step toward true communication.

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