Persuasion—it’s a useful skill to have no matter what your work involves. Whether you’re asking another department to buy into a new project, convincing your boss to hire you another intern, or getting your cube mate to cover for you when you’re out sick, you’re convincing others to give you something you want almost every day.
But no need to think of yourself as a used car salesman (yet). According to communication expert Jean-luc Doumont, it’s not about manipulating people.
We influence people whether we like it or not (even what we don’t say makes an impact), so we might as well use that influence purposefully. Here are a few tips from Doumont on how to do just that.
1. Pay Attention to Your Body Language
You might think persuasion is all about charisma mixed with a few magic words, but it actually has everything to do with sincerity. People are much more likely to agree with you or help you if they believe you’re sincere (and not out to get them).
So, how do people figure out if you’re sincere or not? Your body language, of course. As Doumont insightfully pointed out at a recent talk at MIT, all lie detectors are based in some way on extraneous movements or fidgeting.
Think about it this way: If you say, “I'm so happy to see you,” but there’s a slight frown on your face and your arms are crossed, no one is going to believe you. It’s easy to lie with words; it’s a lot harder to lie with nonverbal cues. People intuitively read body language and give it more weight. That’s bad news if you’re just naturally restless.
Luckily, it’s actually not that hard to control your body language. In fact, your body does most of the work for you. Studies have shown that forcing yourself to smile actually makes you happy, and power poses will indeed make you feel more confident. Right before show time, just assume the position. Assuming you really mean what you’re saying (after all, this is about sincerity, not conning), a match between your verbal and nonverbal message makes you much more convincing.
2. Get Others to Be Self-Consistent
People naturally want to be consistent; it’s just innate human stubbornness. This comes in handy when you need to rely on others in order to get your own work done. To use this strategically when you’re collaborating with others (or even when you just really need someone to do something for you), find ways to get people to actually state (or restate) what they will do instead of telling them what to do.
Doumont gives the example of setting a deadline for a project. Instead of mandating your own deadline, ask your colleague what he or she thinks the deadline should be. It’s much more likely your colleague will uphold the deadline this way. The same is true for reminding people about deadlines. Don’t actually send out a reminder. Ask your colleague to remind you what the deadline is. And, while this might feel like a dirty trick (and it debatably is one), it’s also just an example of good communication skills. This way, you’re guaranteed to be on the same page.
3. Think Like a Salesperson
There’s a lot to be learned about persuasion from salespeople, even if you don’t feel comfortable using sales tricks to your advantage. It’s still a good idea to be aware of them in case you see anyone trying to use them on you. Doumont points out three particularly common practices: using validation, highlighting scarcity, and aligning to values.
Validation, otherwise known as peer pressure, isn’t really even an argument. It’s an appeal to people’s desire to fit in and usually involves mentioning other people who have agreed to a particular request. Scarcity commonly comes in the form of limited time offers and creates a sense of urgency. Finally, an appeal to values is an argument that centers on why it’s the right thing to do for the sake of other people, the environment, society, and so on.
And don’t think you can only use (or be a victim of) these tricks one at a time. Nope. You can use all of them (and more!) all at the same time. Say you want to convince your manager to buy new computers for your team. You can easily point out that another team recently got new computers, a two-day sale is going on, and it’ll be good for team morale and retention. This means doing a little bit of homework before the big ask, but it’ll definitely raise your chances for success.
These tips and tricks are all good, but one of the biggest factors of whether you’ll be persuasive comes down to whether or not the person you’re trying to convince likes you. Flattery sometimes works, but more often than not simply being nice is enough to significantly up your chances for success. So, go out there and be confident, ask for what you want, and don’t forget those sales tricks. But above all, just be nice.
Photo of shaking hands courtesy of Shutterstock.
Lily Zhang serves as a Career Development Specialist at MIT where she works with a range of students from undergraduates to PhDs on how to reach their career aspirations. When she's not indulging in a new book or video game, she's thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author