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How To Be Persuasive

Not so long ago, influence was claimed as a matter of birthright. Now, even for the highborn, influence is a skill that is honed with dedicated practice, feedback and reflection.

Here’s how to be more persuasive:

Being right doesn’t equal winning

Too often people get stuck in a trap of thinking that if I’m right I should win. You won’t. It’s a terrible flaw – and I’d advise you against it.

Truths are subjective – and both parties must accept them as true or they’re just opinions. And haven’t you ever noticed how often what people think should happen is quite often what they want to happen?

More than we’d like to admit, we structure our beliefs based upon emotions and desires rather than facts. Understanding that is the core of powerful persuasion.

Understand why they want what they want

Develop a keen understanding of your audience. If it’s one person or 6 billion, find out what they want. Do not assume that you already know. You don’t. Ask them lots of questions, and seek to be surprised.

Ask them about what’s important to them, and then what is important about that, and so on, until you reach a really fundamental human emotion like ‘So I feel safe’ or ‘Then I feel needed’. When you do, you have reached the core of what’s important to them (about that).

[It can be difficult doing this and not sounding like a therapist – but try. A bit of “Oh wow, okay. Why is that?” in a conversational tone can help]

Identify which are the logistical challenges, and which are the emotional triggers.

The logistical challenges might include:

  • Time constraints
  • Financial constraints
  • Other (laws, travel, prior commitments)

And emotional triggers might include:

  • Appearances (How will this make me look?)
  • Internal struggles (How do I feel about this?)
  • Happiness (Does the idea of this make me happy?)
  • Trust (Do I feel comfortable?)

Handling the logistical challenges is a matter of being flexible – “What about if you paid in installments?” – and that is relatively simple. But logistics will probably not be at the root of whatever is going on. Aren’t there times you’ve made crazy decisions, that you couldn’t really afford to make, simply because you wanted to so much? Make them want to, let them find a way.

Copy their wording exactly

Copy their wording exactly. If you paraphrase, your wording will quite likely make them want to reject the idea because it sounds unfamiliar. To them, feeling ‘safe’ might mean something similar to ‘security’ or it might be closer to ‘intimacy’ – you won’t know, so just copy them. You want your audience to feel as if you understand them really well, and using their wording will create that illusion.

Asking questions can simply be a matter of repeating their statement with an upward inflection so it sounds like a question: “So getting married in a church is important to you?”

Let them agree with you

The act of asking them questions and repeating their wording will encourage them to keep saying ‘Yes’, and this has a very powerful effect. The more times someone says yes to you, the more likely it is that they’ll agree with your final conclusion.

People will feel compelled to maintain any view they’ve stated publicly, so it’s also important that you don’t let them state their objection to whatever you’re persuading them to do or believe. They’ll stay stuck with that rather than admit they’re wrong. So don’t go straight for your goal, and if you think they’ll disagree, start asking more questions.

Make them like you

For them to like you, they must feel alike to you. That was a stupid sentence. The more you can subtly mimic their patterns of speech, choice of words and body-language, the more they’ll experience the feeling ‘This person really gets me’ – and as you are similar, you’ll naturally adopt similar views.

If you do this overtly, they’ll feel mistrustful, so be natural and just get into a mindset of being like them. If they are introverted, keeping their limbs tucked to their body and head bowed, then do that. If they speak loudly, then match that. You’ll gain insights into their way of seeing the world, too.

Sell them an experience

Then, backed with a full understanding of how they think, what they feel and what’s important to them, create an experience. Still mimicking their style, gently nudge them towards your goal.

If safety is important to them, emphasize the safety, using their words. If they like adventure or excitement, make it appeal to that. If they have a competitive streak, then set it as a challenge. Ideally, it should feel like their decision.

Then, really set a scene: “When you’re there, standing at the open door of a plane as wind rushes around you, an instructor strapped to your back. When that green light comes on…” Make it visceral and engaging, using as many senses as you can; the new car smell, the first-date nerves, the sound of dolphins.

If you’ve attached positive emotions to it, and woven it into their core values, they will feel compelled to follow.

Clinch it

If you’ve convinced them with facts, then you’ll need to clinch the deal straight away, before their emotions create some rationalizations to change their mind.

There are various techniques for this – the ‘double bind’ is a famous one: Offer them a false choice – like ‘Would you like me to call you, or would you prefer that I text you?’ – so either result is in line with your goal.

Generally, if you’ve done your job well, it can simply be a matter of letting them stew on it.

Emotional changes take longer but are more sustainable, so giving them private time to adjust is probably advisable. Leave a door open for them; give them a business card or some way of taking it forward. Make sure it’s simple and personal.


You’re now someone who knows many of the elements to becoming a powerful persuader. Now, practice it – over and over. Convince people of strange facts, to do things, and to do things they were already going to do. Try things out and see what works for you.

Harry Key is a ‘provocative speech and confidence coach’ based in London. He teaches people and businesses how to get the results they want by engaging with the world in a confident and congruent way. Visit