A question of character
The ability to persuade others often means the difference between success and failure. This is as true today as it was in Ancient Rome. More than 2,000 years ago, the Roman statesman and orator Cicero dedicated a significant part of his writings to the question of how to win an argument.
At one point, he famously advised: “If you wish to persuade me, you must think my thoughts, feel my feelings, and speak my words.”
Indeed, Cicero understood the importance of connecting with others not just on an intellectual level but also on an emotional one. Two thousand years onwards, psychologists and marketing professionals continue to elaborate on this key insight.
In his book Enchantment, former Apple evangelist Guy Kawasaki emphasizes the importance of establishing a deep, trusting connection with people by enthralling them with “delight.” Enchantment is neither a superficial marketing technique nor a form of manipulation. Rather, enchantment is a way of building genuine trust by respecting other people’s values and captivating your audience for your cause or product. Whether you try to win over one person or millions of potential customers, Kawasaki’s advice boils down to one basic principle: To convince others, you must be a good person.
Kurt Mortensen, a leading authority on persuasion, motivation, and influence, has identified ten key skills that will enhance your “persuasion IQ.” Echoing Kawasaki, Mortensen stresses the importance of conveying empathy and establishing trust by demonstrating good character and competence. He makes clear that mastering the art of persuasion requires a life-long commitment to personal development.
These 10 skills can help make you more persuasive:
1. “The Woebegon effect” – In radio humorist Garrison Keillor’s fictional town of Lake Woebegon, “All the women are strong, all the men are good-looking and all the children are above average.” Similarly, most people believe they are above-average persuaders. As a consequence, they think they have nothing to learn.
2. “The brick wall of resistance” – Consumers assume salespeople are insincere and deceptive, and salespeople fail to confront this stereotype.
3. “Thinking like an employee” – Instead of taking personal responsibility, people settle for doing a good-enough job.
4. “Talking too much” – Persuasion is not about you; it’s about the other person. Make your point and then listen. In a conversation, take up only one-third of the airtime.
5. “An avalanche of information” – If you don’t listen, you may pile on irrelevant data, distancing yourself from your audience.
6. “Being motivated by desperation” – Others can smell your fear. If you make a sale by pressuring or guilt-tripping your customer, he or she will resent it.
7. “Fear of rejection” – Customers who decide not to buy your product are not rejecting you personally. They don’t even know you.
8. “Lack of preparation” – Good persuaders constantly bone up on their products and their audiences. They know how to use more than one approach, so they can customize their presentations for particular audiences.
9. “Prejudging and making assumptions” – Don’t go into an interaction believing you know all about the person to whom you are talking.
10. “Assuming closing skills are the magic cure-all” – Your opening is more important than your closing. If you haven’t made a personal connection, phrases such as “trust me on this one…” will not help you.
We may live in a fast-paced world, but Kawasaki and Mortensen remind us that there are no shortcuts to getting what we want. The best speaking skills won’t get you far if you lack good character – a basic truth that the Roman statesman Marcus Cato conveyed when he defined the orator as “a good man skilled in speaking.”