Persuasion is a powerful tool to make your message stick with an audience. But, the effectiveness of your argument is just as much about how you deliver that message, and when, as it is about what you’re saying.
Yale University psychologist Carl Hovland, one of the first to study techniques of persuasion, started by observing the attitudes of U.S. troops during World War II. His research then and in the years after spurred additional studies into how people respond to persuasive messages. Why do people change their minds?
Here are a few time-tested, Hovland-inspired tips to help you deliver your message in the most effective way possible and persuade others.
1. Recognize that timing is everything.
Patience is a virtue that will serve you well in the art of persuasion. While your gut instinct may be to speak your mind immediately, take a deep breath and think before you act. Is there a better time to bring up your point? Would you be more persuasive if you were better prepared, perhaps armed with stats to back yourself up? Know your audience. Catch them when they’re at their best, and you’re at yours.
2. Practice empathy.
Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Why might they be feeling the way they feel? If you can understand why they disagree with your point of view, you will more easily be able to sway them. Find out what in particular is preventing them from taking your side. Show that you care about their concerns, and then find ways to explain why their hesitations are unfounded.
3. Understand the power of karma.
Everything comes back around. Be nice to people. Establish trust. And, when the time comes where you need friends or colleagues to back you up, they’ll be there. But, this isn’t just something that can be done as a one-off. Be genuine, and start building the framework now.
4. Emphasize urgency.
People tend to move faster if they sense urgency. Emphasize that your offer is for a limited time only; or, that in order to implement your idea to its fullest extent, you need to act now. If people feel like they need to make moves, they often will.
5. Be mindful of your body language.
There are a few “quick fixes” to ensure that you get your point across in the best way possible. Make sure your body language conveys openness and trustworthiness. Don’t cross your arms, for example. Lean in when talking to your colleague, and always make eye contact.
6. Offer honest compliments.
People are attracted to nice people. Be mindful of taking a moment out of your day to give colleagues or friends genuine compliments on a regular basis. It’s something they’ll remember when you're making your case later on, and you need them on your side.
7. Evaluate your alliances.
Are you alone in your point of view, or are other people on board too? Harness the power of your alliances to get the decision-maker to see your side. Let natural relationships take precedence. If a colleague has a good rapport with someone, have them take the lead in trying to convince that person. Once people realize that a majority supports your idea, they’ll be more likely to feel the same way.
8. Be consistent and persistant.
Sometimes, it may take more than one meeting or conversation to get your point across. Don’t antagonize people, but don’t feel that you have to automatically step down if things don’t go your way. Think about why your associates disagree with you, and come back to them again at an appropriate time. Keeping your message consistent over multiple conversations will drive home the point that you’re serious; and that you’re passionate about this particular cause.
9. Exude confidence.
People will be attracted to your message if they sense that you truly believe what you’re saying. Speak with confidence. You’ll be more easily able to convince people if you sound like you’ve already convinced yourself.
Channeling the above nine steps will ensure that your message reaches your audience and, hopefully, drives them to action. After you reach your goal, be sure to indulge in the ever-important follow up: Thank those who helped bring your message to fruition. With gratitude, you’ll continue to foster relations and build credibility for the next time you need to harness the power of persuasion.