We are in the thick of the most unusual political seasons I can remember. Who would have imagined the slate of hopefuls that spans the spectrum? And what will it take for the candidates to convince voters that they should lead the country?
Qualifications? Sure. Campaign promises? Perhaps. Appearance? Doesn’t hurt. The best opposition research? Not necessarily.
But the one factor that will always make the difference? Persuasion – the same sales skill that sets the successful apart from the competition.
Simply said, it doesn’t matter who has the best ideas or the most workable plans or the nicest smile. It all comes down to persuasion. Who can get their point across and bring others over to their side? They could all take a lesson from my favorite president, Abraham Lincoln.
One of Lincoln’s most valuable skills was his ability to persuade others to his point of view, no matter how entrenched their position. Lincoln described the art of persuasion in a speech to the Springfield Washington Temperance Society:
“When the conduct of men is designed to be influenced, persuasion, kind, unassuming persuasion, should ever be adopted. It is an old and true maxim that a ‘drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.’ So it is with men. If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein a drop of honey that catches his heart, which, say what he will, is the great high road to his reason, and which, when once granted, you will find but little trouble in convincing his judgment of the justice of your cause, if indeed that cause really be a just one.
“On the contrary, assume to dictate to his judgment, or to command his action, or to mark him as one to be shunned and despised, and he will retreat within himself, close all the avenues to his head and his heart; and tho’ your cause be naked truth itself … you shall no more be able to reach him, than to penetrate the hard shell of a tortoise with a rye straw.
“Such is man, and so must he be understood by those who would lead him, even to his own best interest.”
An eloquent argument, for sure, and it is timeless advice. You can bully your way into power, but your effectiveness is greatly reduced. Lincoln understood that you must demonstrate respect for the other party or your efforts will be wasted.
Here are some persuasion techniques that have served me well.
- Speak their language. Listen to how people express themselves. Some people will see things: “I don’t see what you mean.” Others will hear: “That doesn’t sound like fun.” Others will feel: “I don’t feel good about that.” Acknowledge their concerns and use the same language to respond to them: “I see your point . . . I hear what you’re saying” to let them know you hear their concerns. It will help them accept your point more readily.
- Use their names. What’s the sweetest sound in the world? Your name on someone else’s lips. Just don’t overdo it. For a new acquaintance, make sure you’re pronouncing it right, and don’t use it before you’ve established some sort of rapport.
- Use action words. Be direct. You’ve got to ask for the response you want. Don’t ask someone to try to do something, or to think about doing it, if you need an immediate response. But if you are negotiating for the longer term, give them time to think about your request so they don’t feel pressured.
- Get your foot in the door. You don’t have to lead off with your main point. First get the other person’s attention, and then apply some persuasive techniques – offering an additional benefit, changing your request to what you really want, or letting them turn you down now while leaving the door open to agree with you later.
Two key words will make you more persuasive, according to Jerald M. Jellison in his book “Overcoming Resistance.” Those words are “if” and “then.” Whether you are trying to sell a car or an idea, the message that works is: “If you will take this action then you’ll get this reward.”
Let me phrase that another way: If you want to be persuasive, then don’t be evasive.
Mackay’s Moral: Persuasion is an art. The tongue can paint what the eye can’t see.