By JEFF HADEN
All the extremely successful people I know – and all the great leaders I know – are exceptionally good at persuading other people to follow them. Maybe that’s why Mark Cuban has said that knowing how to sell is the one skill everyone needs to be successful.
But being persuasive doesn’t mean you have to manipulate or pressure other people.
At its best, persuasion is the ability to effectively describe the benefits and logic of an idea to gain agreement – and that means we all need to be more persuasive.
And that’s why the art of persuasion is critical in any business or career – and why successful people are extremely good at persuading others. So, how can you teach your children to become more persuasive in their arguments and, in turn, become effective leaders in the future?
1) Teach them to start with small “wins”
Research has shown that getting people to agree with you has an enduring effect, even if only over the short term.
Teach your children to focus not on jumping right to the end of their arguments but to start with statements or premises with which they know their audience will agree. Build a foundation for further agreement.
Remember, a body in motion tends to remain in motion, and that also applies to a head nodding in agreement.
2) Teach them not to be afraid to take strong stands
You would assume data and reasoning always win the day, right? Nope.
Research shows humans prefer cockiness to expertise. We naturally assume confidence equates with skill.
Even the most sceptical people tend to be at least partly persuaded by a confident speaker.
In fact, we prefer advice from a confident source, even to the point that we will forgive a poor track record.
So teach your children to be bold. Teach them to stop saying “I think” or “I believe.” Teach them to stop adding qualifiers to their speech.
Tell them: “If you think something will work, just say it will work. If you believe something will work, just say it will work.”
Teach your children to stand behind their opinions – even if they are just opinions – and to let their enthusiasm show. People will naturally gravitate to their side.
3) Teach them to adjust their rate of speech
There’s a reason behind the “fast-talking salesman” stereotype – in certain situations, talking quickly works. Other times, not so much.
Here’s what one study indicates – if your audience is likely to disagree, speak faster; if your audience is likely to agree, speak slower.
Why? When your audience is inclined to disagree with you, speaking faster gives them less time to form their own counter-arguments, giving you a better chance of persuading them.
When your audience is inclined to agree with you, speaking slowly gives them time to evaluate your arguments and factor in a few of their own thoughts.
The combination of your reasoning plus their initial bias means they are more likely to, at least in part, persuade themselves.
In short, if your children are preaching to the choir, teach them to speak slowly; if not, they should speak quickly.
And if their audience is neutral or apathetic, teach them to speak quickly so they will be less likely to lose other people’s attention.
4) Teach them to know their audience
One of my supervisors used to frustrate me to no end. I was young and enthusiastic and would burst into his office with an awesome idea, lay out all my facts and figures, and wait breathlessly for him to agree with me. And he would disagree.
Every. Freaking. Time.
Finally – it took way longer than it should have – I realised that he wasn’t the problem. My approach was.
His personality meant he was the type that wanted time to think. He liked to process.
By demanding an immediate answer, I put him on the defensive, which meant he went with the safe choice – saying no.
So I tried a different approach.
“I have an idea that I think makes sense,” I said.
“But I feel sure there are things I’m missing. If I run it by you, could you think about it for a day or two and then tell me what you think?”
He loved that approach. One, it showed I valued his wisdom and experience. Two, it showed I didn’t just want him to agree – I genuinely wanted his opinion.
And, most importantly, it gave him time to process my idea.
Teach your children not to push for instant agreement if someone’s personality style makes that unlikely.
And teach them not to ask for thought and reflection if their audience loves to make quick decisions and move on.
5) Teach them not to be afraid to be (appropriately) “unprofessional”
Cursing for no reason is just cursing. But say a team needs to immediately pull together. Tossing in an occasional – and heartfelt – curse word can actually help instil a sense of urgency because it shows you care.
In short, teach your children to be themselves. Authenticity is always more persuasive.
If they feel strongly enough to want to slip in a mild curse word, they should feel free (in the right setting, of course).
Research shows they’re likely to be a little more persuasive.
6) Teach them to focus on describing positive outcomes
While it’s tempting to use scare tactics, positive-outcome statements tend to be more persuasive.
Researchers hypothesise that most people respond negatively to feeling bullied into changing a behaviour.
So, if your children are trying to create a change, tell them to focus on sharing the positives of that change. They want to take their audience to a better place, not tell their audience what to avoid.
7) Teach them to share the good and the bad
According to University of Illinois professor Daniel O’Keefe, sharing an opposing viewpoint or two is more persuasive than sticking solely to your argument.
Why? Very few ideas or proposals are perfect. Your audience knows that.
They know there are other perspectives and potential outcomes.
So teach your children to meet objections head on.
Tell them to talk about the things their audience may already be considering.
Teach them to discuss potential negatives and show how they will mitigate or overcome those problems.
Teach your children to talk about the other side of the argument – and then do their best to show why they’re still right.
8) Teach them to not just say they’re right
Persuasive people understand how to frame and deliver their message but, most importantly, they embrace the fact that the message is what matters most.
Teach your children to be clear, concise, and to the point.
Teach them to win the day because their data, reasoning, and conclusions are beyond reproach.
What’s true for your children applies to all of us – the art of persuasion should simply be the icing on an undeniably logical cake.
Jeff Haden is a public speaker and author of more than 50 non-fiction books and ghost-writer for innovators and business leaders. To engage with him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jeff Haden is a speaker, ghostwriter, and author of The Motivation Myth: How Highly Successful People Really Set Themselves Up to Win.