The art of persuasion

August 16th, 2012 by Briana Cummings

Jane Austen’s Persuasion is about a pair of lovers, Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth, who are thrown together eight years after Anne, under the influence of a family friend who thought the match financially imprudent, broke off their engagement. The book is about many forms of persuasion, not least of which is how Anne, regretting her decision not to marry Wentworth, slowly wins back his embittered heart,  by doing no more to actively persuade him than just being her good, loving self.


We are always, every day, in subtle ways, convincing people that we know what we are doing, that they should hire us for the job, that they should keep us on for the job, that they should put their trust in us, build a collaboration with us, take a risk on us or with us, enter a relationship with us, maintain a relationship with us, etc. It is not only in the context of a “formal” negotiation that we need to learn strategies of persuasion and negotiation.

Below are some tips for effective negotiation and persuasion. Not all are appropriate for all situations. Mix and match as appropriate.

(1) Convey an image of independence, confidence, and non-neediness. Show that you know your mind, speak decisively, don’t let on that you care in the least what they think of you. This engenders respect. People are instinctively attracted to those who appear emotionally strong.

Also, if you remove the other side’s feeling that you want something from them, you remove their source of power. Imply in very subtle ways that what they have to offer is not something you really want.

He who cares least always wins.

The hungry dog doesn’t get fed.

So, be aloof and somewhat mysterious. Don’t wear your emotions on your sleeve. Be ambiguous in your communications. Keep them confused about you.  Whenever you encounter reluctance, backpedal immediately.

(2) Get the other person to commit to smaller things first.Then you can build up to bigger things. You always want to be building up the communication and connection. You do this by building trust. Always be moving forward slowly but surely. If things aren’t moving forward, you need to change the pace (e.g., try backing off a little).

A segment of a social network

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Don’t try to extract too much commitment too quickly. You don’t want the other person to feel forced into anything before they are ready. When you throw the hook into the water and feel the first nibble, you can’t jerk the line too quickly.

(3) Be similar to them. Mirror them.

(4) Flatter them. Don’t be over-the-top, but subtle cues can work magic. Recognize their achievements or sacrifices. Show you’re thinking about their needs. Light up when you see them. Put enthusiasm in your voice. Ask about anything and everything that relates to them, and let them do most of the talking on any topic that interests them. Smile. Making people feel accepted is one of the most powerful ways to influence them.

People don’t remember what we said or did. They remember how we made them feel. ~May Angelou (paraphrase)

People subconsciously grow dependent on those who fulfill their emotional needs, and human beings have an unquenchable thirst for attention and recognition. We feel attracted to people who show a genuine interest in us or appear to have a favorable impression of us. We generally feel about others the way we think they feel about us.

(5) Show, don’t tell. The smallest consistent actions will be noticed more than any words. Be confident in what you have to offer them, be trustworthy, be prompt, respectful, dependable, upbeat, etc. And if you can’t really be it (e.g., if you aren’t really feeling confident), put on an Academy-Award-winning performance.

Suffragets [i.e., suffragettes] Freeman, Wentw...


(6) Be patient and persistent.People’s emotions change; we’re very flexible emotionally. Rejection can almost always be overcome with patience and endurance. It’s common to feel two conflicting desires at the same time. One is just a little bit stronger than the other, so that’s the one we’re most aware of. Desires can change over time.

In the meantime, don’t just sit there and wait for their mind to change (but don’t be pushy, either). Come up with a strategy to subtly influence their thinking. As in any difficult task, to persuade a recalcitrant audience, you need blind determinationDo not give up no matter how dark it is or how bad you feel. There is no person whose heart and mind cannot be won, with the correct approach and enough time.

self-fulfilling fulfilling prophecy

To maintain patience, pat yourself on the back whenever you see signs of movement in your direction, however small. This will keep you inspired to keep going. As time goes by, keep your eyes open for anything that might be different than before. These are like road signs that you are on the right track. Don’t worry that by doing this you may be raising false hopes; remember, the self-fulfilling prophecy is a very powerful phenomenon.

(7) Empathy generally works better than pressure. Use the Ben Franklin approach. Find points of agreement. State points of disagreement as if you could perhaps agree under other circumstances.

If someone is resistant to your attempts at persuasion, you may need to give her space to work things out her own way.

(8) When you are turned down, turn the charm on stronger. Losing gracefully will subconsciously induce others to be more trusting of you in the future.


(9) Change strategies. If what you’re doing isn’t working, do something different. Try doing the opposite. Experiment with different approaches and watch the results. If words, don’t work, take action. If talking about feelings doesn’t work, stop.

No single negotiation strategy works with everyone. Identify what works with the

English: Tree above Kingsdale Stubborn growth ...

Stubborn growth in a limestone pavement. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

particular person you are talking to.

And never ever give up.

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