4 principles of persuasion you should use today

4 principles of negotiation you should use today

One thing I’ve noticed in the workplace: people who can get others to buy into their vision are at the top of the food chain. We’re all in the business of influence and persuasion. Whether it’s an idea or a product, you won’t get far unless others buy into it.

Persuasion vs Manipulation

I want to start by highlighting the difference between persuasion and manipulation. There’s a fine line. Both of these behaviors seek to move another person to a desired action. But manipulation is like the ugly cousin that grew up in the locked basement that the family whispers about.

Manipulation aims at control, not cooperation. It doesn’t consider the good of the other party. The aim of manipulation is a win-lose situation. The problem with that: you can only use it so many times before resentment starts to build.

Persuasion, in contrast to manipulation, seeks to enhance the self-esteem of the other party. To look for win-win instead of win-lose. When you’ve been persuaded, you feel good about it and you’re more likely to buy into their ideas again. I love this distinction. And I’m sure you’ve had the same experience where someone got you to buy something you really needed and it was even better than you expected. That feeling is what you want to inspire in other people.

When two worlds collide

I’ve had the privilege to work with people from all over: an Indian from South Africa, an African from France. And the one thing at the root of all disagreements is the clash of belief systems. Humans are great rationalizers. We’re not interested the truth. But in our version of the truth. And our truth comes by parsing all information through our belief system. This belief system is that unique way we see things based on a combination of upbringing, environments, popular culture, cultural backgrounds and all the little nuances we have.

And as human beings we unconsciously think that everybody sees the world as we see the world.  How could they do anything else? It’s the only way we can fit others into our world. That’s why you hear people say things like, “Oh, everybody feels that way.” Or, “Oh, nobody could possibly do that.” If you think about it logically, blanket statements like this couldn’t possibly be true.

I’m not asking you to understand the other person’s’ belief system. You can’t anyway since it wouldn’t make sense to you. The other person probably thinks some of the stuff you believe is stupid too. Simply understand that two people can see the world from two different belief systems. And as long as we respect that, we can set the background for a win-win.

This awareness helps me get through that familiar fight-or-flight reaction. That part of my brain that starts going “What are they thinking?”, “Why don’t they get it?”. Once you know that, you learn not to take things personally. The other person is just living the only way they know how. It isn’t personal. It’s just the unconscious way the other person sees the world.

Rehearse your emotions

I’ve spoken a lot about controlling emotions and it isn’t easy, even for me. Human beings are emotionally driven. We’re not rational people. We make major decisions based on emotion and we back up those emotional decisions with our logic. We rationalize. Or as I like to say, we tell ourselves rational lies to justify an emotional decision.

Zig Ziglar talked about the difference between responding and reacting.  Responding is being calm, listening to the other person first and then taking a moment to decide what to do. The best way to do that is rehearsing your responses before an important meeting.

With any important interaction, I run through every possibility that I can think of that could happen. I rehearse how I would feel if my request got rejected. This way, we won’t get caught off guard when it happens. Once, I’ve decided how I want to feel about it up front, I can think of what I can ask for next.

This has helped me tremendously in negotiations I take part in. I’ve seen people go into performance reviews and start crying when their request for a promotion gets rejected. That’s because it’s never even crossed their mind that they might get rejected.

Resetting the context

Our lives as children start from a blank state. Take some time out to observe toddlers that have taken a fall. You’ll notice a tiny fraction of a second when the pain sets in and instead of crying straight away, the toddler looks towards the parents. That split second helps the toddler establish how they should react to the fall.

If the parents rush forward with looks of alarm on their faces, the toddler will no doubt start crying. They’ve picked up the verbal cues from their parents. If the parents chose to applaud and smile, he’ll break out into this big grin and start laughing. The parents set the context for how the toddler reacts.

It’s the same thing when we meet someone. The non-verbal cues that we are giving out set the context for how the conversation could go. If we set the context as a win-lose relationship, that’s what’s going to happen. But what happens if the other person is already starting out angry. That’s when we have to reset the context of the conversation.

Let’s use a simple example Say you go to a hotel and you’re asking for a late check-out. And the person attending to you is already quoting the rules about how check out has to be done by a certain time, exceeding it will result in very, very dire consequences bla bla bla.

And you ask to see the manager. So he goes around to the back, his mood is already crappy because he has to go get his supervisor. He tells the supervisor, “There’s a customer out front who wants to speak to you about a late check out.”

The manager has been in the business for years, hates his job and hates having to deal with requests. So he comes out, he’s already got his “I’m a professional and I’m just going to say no” look on.

At this point, you have two options:
Option one, react to his game face and start by saying, “Well, I want to check out late because I’ve got a late flight and I stay at this hotel all the time.” And you may get it or not but you can already feel your gut tightening; that reaction that tells you to prepare for a fight.

Option two, you start resetting the context. Respond with a smile and handshake. “Thank you so much for taking the time out to talk to me. I know you’re very busy.” And boom, you’ve reset the context. You’re no longer the problem guest he has to deal with. You’re approaching this as a reasonable person. Do you think you’ve increased the chances of your request going through?

Trust me, it does, I’ve done it.


So this is when it all comes together. Tact. Tact is really the ability to correct someone, to reject someone without them going on the defensive. To do so in a way where they are open to both us and the idea. That’s what tact allows. It involves keeping the other person’s feelings in mind when we respond to their idea.

One of the common examples we can use, is when someone requests our time or they want us to take part in something. And we don’t want to do it.

It’s hard for a lot of people to say no. They become this self-sacrificial door mat to other people’s requests. And I know lots of people have covered saying no. And I’ve been to seminars where I hear things like “No is a complete sentence”. Just tell people “No” and that’s it. I see people nodding at these seminars, feeling empowered. But if you think about it, when someone makes a request, do you really want to tell them “No”.

You’re running the risk of turning an ally into a potential enemy. You’re closing doors of the future.

Then, there’s the flip side of the equation where people say, just cook up some excuse. The most common being: “I don’t have time right now.” That’s also not the best way to do it. You just lied. It’s not that you don’t have time. It’s just something that you don’t want to do.

What if the other person calls you out on it? “I’m going to help you on that project you’re focusing on so you have time to do this.” Then you have to admit, “It’s not that I don’t have the time, I just don’t want to do it”. Now you’re a liar on top of saying no to the person.

There’s a third way to do this: “Thank you so much for asking. While it’s not something I’d like to do right now, please know I am honored to be asked.” That’s all there is to it. Breaking it down, you’re thanking the person and letting them know it’s an honor; to give them the respect they deserve. You’re not making any excuse they can grab onto. Sometimes, this may not be enough.

The other person may still try to compel you to do it. Because you’ve set yourself up as someone helpful. So they go: “Oh, but we really, really need you to do it.”

Again, without any defensiveness, you just say, “I’d rather not. But thank you for asking me. I’m honored to be asked.” What you’re doing here is training the other person that they can always ask you, there’s nothing wrong with asking. But when you say no, you mean no and that’s it. When you feel put on the spot about something and you don’t have a go to phrase that still retains respect for the other person, that’s where you can get into trouble.

Rehearse these two phrases. Don’t wait until it happens.  You can change the words, of course. But rehearse how you’re going to do it, so when something happens, you’re ready to let it roll off the tongue.


So that’s the 4 principles of persuasion that you can start using today. The most important thing to remember is that you’ll make mistakes. I have times too when I say or do things that I wish I could take back. I’m working on building up my strengths in these areas. The only way to do that is practice.

PS: if you want to learn more about influence, persuasion and negotiation

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  1. Good advise. Thank you.

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