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Master the art of persuasion

By Hugh Wilson
Master the art of persuasion
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If the salesman on the other end of the line persuaded you to listen to his pitch without slamming the phone down he was probably practised in the art of persuasion.

Similarly the guy in the computer shop who sold you a two-year warranty you didn't really need, or the boss at your old firm who made it seem like his offer of unpaid overtime was doing you a favour.

Having the gift of the gab and being able to influence and persuade people can be a boon in all sorts of areas — your love life and your work life, for starters — and the tips and tricks you need might be easier to learn than you think. Here are some simple tips and techniques to help you master the art of persuasion.

Keep it simple
You're more likely to get people to do what you want them to do if you keep your message clear and simple. According to Cambridge University psychologist Dr Kevin Dutton, the author of Split-Second Persuasion, people are more convinced by short, sharp messages than long-winded ones.

Stories with lots of extraneous detail are both harder to understand and harder to believe. At heart, you have to convince your listener that doing it your way — whatever 'it' is — will be good for them. It's easier with a clear, concise message.

Make them like you
It's easier to persuade someone of something if they like you. That means you might be halfway there already with your girlfriend but a new business contact might view you with suspicion.

Take a few minutes uncovering similarities between you and mutual areas of interest. It will make things easier when you come to the real reason you made a beeline for him.

Speak persuasively
A recent study found that simply speaking at a moderate pace was more persuasive than speaking too slowly or too quickly. The study asked 100 interviewers to call random members of the public and ask them to complete a survey. The moderate talkers (three and a half words per second, to be precise) were much more successful at persuading people to spend time and effort answering their questions.

The research, recently presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, also found that an overly polished performance might be counterproductive (perhaps because it sounds a bit scripted). Interviewers who paused a lot were found to be more persuasive than those who talked more fluently.

In other words, don't worry about being nervous when you talk to a potential date or a potential client. Avoid speaking too quickly or slowly and, even if you occasionally pause or falter, you'll appear trustworthy and confident.

Be passionate (and swear!)
It's much easier to persuade someone of your point of view if you're obviously passionate about it. But ranting and raving can be counterproductive — your listener may believe you, but she may also want to get away from you fast. Research has found that one way to convince others of passion and sincerity is with a little light profanity.

Researchers from Northern Illinois University played versions of a speech with and without one use of the word 'damn' ("...lowering of tuition is not only a great idea, but damn it, also the most reasonable one for all parties involved."). Participants were much more likely to be persuaded by the speech with a 'damn' than the same speech without.

Don't get us wrong, effing and blinding through your pitch whoever it's too will make you seem aggressive and offensive. But an occasional minor profanity will be seen as a genuine display of emotion.

Buy coffee
If you want her to go on a date with you buy her coffee before you ask, rather than waiting for the date itself to show your generosity. Why? Well, because a study by researchers at Queensland University in Australia found that people were more easily influenced after they'd taken caffeine. All the caffeine did was make the subjects more aroused. They were more attentive to the message and therefore more likely to be persuaded by it.

Similarly, asking your mate for a big favour when he's watching the World Cup final is likely to end in a knock back. He simply won't process the message properly.

Be confident
Passion is connected to confidence. According to Dr Dutton, the more confident you are, the more people will believe you're right, even when they think they know your facts are wrong.

That doesn't mean having perfect presentation (see the section on speaking persuasively, above), but it does have to look like you have total confidence in the content of your message. She really will have a good time with you. He really will enjoy using this product. It's strange but true that a show of confidence in your message can even overcome someone's genuine disbelief in its contents.

Don't take no for an answer
So you're trying to persuade someone to do something and they outright refuse. The game's up, right? Wrong. According to 2009 research from Michigan State University, successful persuaders — when faced with a blanket refusal — simply employ the 'dump and chase' approach.

Quite simply, they ask "why not?" and deal with objections as they arise (it's useful to have prepared good answers to any objections beforehand). In other words, they simply refuse to take no for an answer. The researchers theorise that this is simply a matter of persistence. By repeating the request, and answering objections, you're making it clear how much the request means to you. That makes you seem passionate about it and also heightens the listener's sense of guilt or sympathy.

It's one secret of why the average-looking guy gets all the girls, and the guy of average ability quickly climbs the career ladder. They don't slink off to lick their wounds after a knock-back — they keep plugging away.

Be positive
Finally, your message should be positive and appeal to the listener's self-interest. Emphasise that the deal would be good for him, not for you, or that accepting a date would make her happy, rather than focusing on how sad you'd be if she refused.

Most of us also like to conform, so if possible emphasise that your message is a popular one. You're asking her to the new bar because everyone's talking about it. You're selling him that insurance package because other savvy consumers love it. Repeating the message gives it a ring of truth, even if it's not true.

Combine these tips and what you have is a pretty persuasive argument. It won't work every time, of course, but master the art of persuasion and you should see your hit rate — in any walk of life — improve.

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