We base most of our decisions on emotions. In an age of reason, we like to believe we think with our heads more than we do with our heart. But science shows that even our logical decisions are driven by emotions.
What does this have to do with being persuasive? Well, it’s actually key. See, at the end of the day, persuasion is really just a game of managing emotions — both yours and the emotions of those you’re trying to convince.
Whether you’re negotiating a raise or begging your wife to let you buy a new car, everything gets easier when you realize people make decisions according to how they feel.
So how can you use that to your advantage? Here are seven strategies that supercharge your persuasiveness.
1. Put Them in a Good Mood
According to the FBI’s former lead kidnapping negotiator Chris Voss, you have a significantly higher chance of getting your way when the other side is in a good mood.
Take advantage of this by complimenting the other side before any discussion takes place. A quick “looking good today” or “I like your shoes” might be all you need to put them in a positive mindset.
Flashing a big smile or cracking a silly joke can also work wonders. The goal is simple: stack the odds in your favor by activating the happiness chemicals in their brain. Alter their mood and it’ll be much easier to get what you want.
2. Empathize, Empathize, Empathize
To be persuasive, you must get the other side to trust you. How? First, listen to their side of the story. Really listen. Put yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself, “How would I feel if I was in their situation?”
Make eye contact to show them you’re absorbing what they’re saying. Once they’ve finished talking, tell them you sympathize with how they feel. Use phrases like:
- “I understand where you’re coming from”
- “I can see why that would make you [insert feeling]”
Chris Voss also recommends “labeling” their emotion by saying “it sounds like you don’t like [X]” or “it seems like [X] is important to you.”
These work because they let the other side know you’re ready to work with them rather than against them. This allows them to open up to you. It also dispels anger and frustration, paving the way for a more productive conversation.
When they let their guard down, your words carry 100 times the influence.
3. Mirror Their Last Three to Five Words
One powerful way to show empathy is to repeat the other side’s last few words back to them. Here’s an example of how this works:
- Other side: “I just don’t feel comfortable with this direction.”
- You: “Don’t feel comfortable with this direction?”
- Other side: “Yeah, it just feels like there are too many financial risks involved when I can barely pay rent.”
Mirroring their words shows them you’re listening and empathize with their point of view. Just like the phrases in the previous strategy, this gets them to open up and share more information, giving you a deeper understanding of why they feel the way they do.
Side note: Chris Voss has used this tactic during hostage negotiations to get criminals to reveal more than they intended to.
4. Appeal to Core Desires
Once you’ve earned the other side’s trust, it’s time to convince them why your way is best.
To sharpen your arguments, study advertisements. I’m talking about TV commercials, social media ads, and highway billboards. Hint: they work because they appeal to core human desires like comfort, pleasure, and social acceptance.
Build your arguments around the same strategy. For example, if you’re trying to get a raise, you might bring up the fact that a promotion would sideline any thoughts of quitting your job. This appeals to your boss’ desire for comfort, given how tedious and time-consuming the hiring process can be.
If you’re trying to convince your wife to go skydiving, you might persuade her with the idea that it’ll be a great story to tell your friend group. This appeals to her desire for social acceptance.
Figure out what makes the other side tick. Then build your arguments around their core desires.
5. Be “Objective,” Then Make a Contrast
One of the most effective persuasion strategies I’ve used is presenting the other side with multiple options, then noting the pros and cons of each.
For example, if I’m trying to convince my brother to go on a hike, I’ll say:
“You could go on a hike with me, or you could stay at home. The hike won’t be easy, but you’ll feel a huge sense of accomplishment when it’s over. Staying home is comfortable, but you’ll also go to bed tonight feeling like you wasted your day.”
Presenting both pros and cons makes your arguments feel less sales-y. In turn, this makes it easier for the other side to entertain your ideas, rather than shut them down right away.
That said, the key to persuasion is to use one of the following strategies:
- Add more pros to your preferred option
- Add more cons to the other options
- Make the pros of your preferred option seem dramatically better
- Make the cons of the other options seem dramatically worse
In other words, be sure to rig the pros and cons in your favor.
6. Use Social Proof
Humans are social creatures. We’re more likely to do something if we see others doing it too.
Leverage this by referencing other people in your arguments. For example, if you’re trying to convince your girlfriend to see a movie, bring up all your other friends who have already seen it and given it rave reviews.
Citing prior success creates a sense of safety. It also triggers FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). Both are powerful ways to convince people to act.
A good example from the business world is sticker manufacturer Sticker Mule’s website, which highlights over 3,400 reviews of their product, almost all overwhelmingly positive. For first time visitors, these reviews create the impression that ordering from this company is safe.
(For the record, I’ve ordered from them and they consistently deliver on quality.)
7. Offer Solutions When Faced With Objection
At some point, the other side is going to push back on your suggestions. It’s inevitable. Otherwise, there would be no reason to study persuasion.
When objections arise, refer back to strategies 2 and 3. Understand where they’re coming from, let them know you empathize with their reasoning. Then, show them how easily their concerns can be overcome by providing specific solutions.
This is an important step because if you empathize without providing any counterpoints, you’ve lost. But empathizing and offering solutions allows you to knock down their barriers.
These strategies only work if you have your own emotions under control. If you lose your calm during the discussion, they lose their magic, because it tells the other side you’re negotiating from a position of insecurity.
You also need to speak with confidence. Nervousness or anxiety suggests you’re unsure of your own reasoning.
Like with everything else, the more you work at it, the better you’ll get. Put in consistent practice and you’ll start to find it easier to get your way in life.