“I can’t figure this situation out,” I said.
“That’s because you’re not focusing on the right thing,” he replied.
“You must start doing what we do.”
“Because that’s the only way you can achieve what you want.”
The note of finality in each of his statements was distinct. The conversation continued, but I kept smiling politely and nodding. I didn’t want to be part of it, but he didn’t get the hint.
I met him for the first time. And you can bet that I won’t do what he asked. Neither do I want to meet him again.
Am I being a prick? Or egoistic? Probably. But unless I’m convinced that something is good for me, I won’t explore it. The same holds true for you. And for people you know.
It is difficult to get convinced, to let go of our thoughts and beliefs. It’s equally (or more) difficult to convince people.
Research throws up interesting observations. It shows that we generally trust strangers less. Okay, that wasn’t interesting. It was common sense. But it also has shown that people listen to loved ones less than those not close to them.
Theoretically, that sounds inaccurate, right? Why will we trust acquaintances more than loved ones? But think about it. Isn’t that why, when someone we know is not convinced, we enlist the help of somebody who isn’t part of the inner circle? Isn’t that why say to them, “Maybe he will listen to you. I’m tired of trying.”
Don’t get me wrong. Convincing people isn’t about manipulating them for a selfish need. Instead, it’s about helping them see how they can benefit from an alternate perspective. Or how a different way of doing things can improve an aspect of their lives.
Here are 11 strategies which will increase your chances of success immediately. Don’t apply them all at once. Choose which strategies fit a situation, combine the best ones, and achieve your goal.
1. Put Yourself in Their Shoes
The first step to convince people is to be on the same platform as them. But we do the opposite. Not once, not twice, but repeatedly. It’s our biggest blunder. Speaking from a pedestal alienates listeners. Instead ask yourself, “What does this person want?” See things from their perspective. It will help you connect with them better, and create solutions which benefit them. This is what you should aim for – something that helps them instead of demanding that they follow you.
Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Steve Jobs were masters at putting themselves in people’s shoes. As a result, they had countless followers, and still do, long after they have passed away.
2. Ask Questions
Asking “Wh” questions is the second most powerful tool in your arsenal (the first is the next point). After you put yourself in your audience’s shoes, ask them questions. This gives you critical information for understanding the person’s situation. You can then lay a strong foundation for convincing them about your idea or belief.
“Wh” questions – Why, What, When, Where, Who, How – encourage your audience to be more open and honest. You get more information than what you thought was important. And it’s easier to keep the conversation flowing with such questions, instead of ones where your audience answers in monosyllables.
And once you ask questions, follow the next suggestion to the ’T’.
We believe we’re good listeners. However, many of us get the intent horribly wrong even now. True, we ask questions. But we suffer from a severe bias. We design questions, and hunt for answers, which are in sync with our thought process. What doesn’t fit our frame is disregarded. Or used to identify errors in others’ thinking and logic. Then we wonder why people don’t agree with us.
Good listening, on the other hand, leads to cooperative conversations. According to Harvard Business Review, good listening is about “providing feedback in ways others would accept and that opened up alternate paths to consider.” Unfortunately, 64 percent CEOs don’t know what motivates others. CEOs are humans. Which means most people don’t understand where people they want to convince are coming from. To counter this, listen to them.
Good listening involves absorbing what a person says, and observing critical non-verbal cues like facial expression, body language and gestures. These insights are worth their weight in gold. They help you recognize what motivates others.
Plus, good listening builds an implicit trust between you and your audience. Convincing them becomes easier after that.
4. Slow Down
Ever notice how someone unable to convince you starts speaking more? It occurred a lot in the opening example of this post. I think he sensed that I was unconvinced. So, he kept speaking. And each sentence further dissuaded me from his point of view.
Whether someone is able to grasp what you say or not, slow down. Give your listener time to digest what you said. It probably will lead to more questions, which is good. This gives you more opportunities to convince her. Allow silence. Be comfortable with it. Pose “wh”-questions. Don’t behave like a telemarketer who wants your bank account number before you understand what he sells.
The ability to slow down also has positive effects on other aspects of life.
Okay, you say, I’ll slow down. But if the person isn’t convinced, what should I do? Valid question. Read on.
5. Use Alternate Methods
Humans have six senses. (Yes, animals do too, but this post isn’t about convincing them.) When someone speaks, our sense of hearing is activated. But often, that isn’t enough. We need more than words, facts and figures to get convinced, and to convince others. Studies prove that 65 percent humans are visual learners. So don’t ignore other avenues.
Special education consultant Kamini Lakhani shares a brilliant insight on this. Often, she interacts with parents of children with autism who cannot recognize their child’s potential, and become effective parents. “At such times, I slow down,” she says. “It allows me to observe whether the parent is absorbing what I said. If she has doubts, I share real life examples of other parents. I also show videos of successful instances. These encourage a mother.”
Isn’t that amazing? She appeals to humans’ love for stories, and visual learning. She gives them hope, enabling them to experience a powerful emotion. Eventually parents open up about their deepest worries and concerns. Not just that, they become receptive to her suggestions. Mission accomplished.
6. Break it Into Smaller Steps
Imagine: you don’t know how to swim. Yet, you are thrown in the deep end of a swimming pool. How does it feel? Terrifying, right? Now imagine you doing the same to others with your idea. What do you estimate your chances of success are?
Change makes us uncomfortable. But big change frightens us. If your idea demands a big change in the way things function, it almost certainly will be rejected.
Instead, start small. Break an idea into smaller steps. Keep it simple. Make the person you are trying to convince feel secure at each stage.
For instance, if you want to buy a home at a distant location and have to convince your partner first (you better!), start small. Talk about the traffic and pollution in your area. As the discussion progresses, gently mull on shifting to a quieter location. Encourage your partner to weigh the pros and cons: commuting to work, facilities, going far from friends. Then, a few days later, show them an ad of the project you want to invest in. Focus on the advantages. Over time, your partner will buy into your idea (no pun intended).
7. Give it Time
Can I expect you to become an expert musician today? Like that, expecting people to accept your idea immediately is futile. You just set yourself up for disappointment and frustration.
Let an idea simmer, especially if it demands big change. Let people work the pros and cons out in their minds. For your idea or belief to be effective, people must feel like it was their thought all along. And that takes time.
You might believe it’s unfair if you don’t get credit for having convinced someone. That, however, raises questions about your intent. Did you try convincing someone for their own good, or because you want to be seen as their messiah, their savior?
8. Be Honest
Win people’s hearts. Don’t just try and get your way. A jerk gets his way, many times. But he often stays up at night scheming and plotting, while you enjoy a peaceful sleep.
It will take you longer than the jerk to convince people, and you will stumble more than him. But honesty and authenticity set you up for long-term success. Let people know your intentions. Let them read you like an open book. They will trust you. Trust builds a strong foundation to a lasting relation. Because humans respond more positively to someone who comes across as trustworthy rather than confident (source).
9. Show Them the Bigger Picture
The best way to be authentic is to show people the bigger picture. Everyone loves big-picture thinking. Utilize it.
It’s easy to miss the forest for the trees, and most of us are guilty of that when someone shares something new with us. You are better convinced when someone shows you the bigger picture, right? Something that fits with your mental model of how things should be. If this is how you agree to others, shouldn’t you do the same when you want to convince them?
Let your audience understand that through what you propose, they will contribute to improvement, to progress. Show them how they will benefit. Also share what they could miss out on if they miss the bus.
10. Have an Open Mind
Convincing people is not about making them do what we want. It works both ways. Sometimes, you want to convince others. But you might experience a change in perspective. Embrace it. The broader your perspective, the more others will appreciate it. And they will trust you, because they will see that you have everyone’s best interests in mind.
Having an open mind also lets you validate whether your ship is headed in the right direction. If not, you can make course corrections before it becomes fatal. Plus, an open mind keeps negative emotions at bay, and builds the trait of emotional distance in you. This, in turn, makes you look objectively instead of feeling victimized. Which, in turn, increases your success rate.
11. Stop Wasting Energy
What matters more – convincing someone of YOUR idea, or your relation with them? Rarely, if ever, is it the former. What happens when you stretch a rubber band beyond its limits? Who gets hurt?
I’ve committed this sin more times than mosquitoes have bitten you. The number of friends lost, relations soured, the anger which followed… if only I had learned this lesson faster. Letting go is the key to inner peace.
If your idea is good, people will return once they understand its significance. If not, you will return to the drawing board and figure out what you missed. This way, you maintain good relations with people who matter AND don’t lose sleep over negative thoughts.
As human beings, we don’t adhere to the alpha and omega mentality of animals. We participate in, or support an initiative, only if we see our benefit in it. We are social animals. So, if you want to succeed in the long run, developing the ability to convince them is essential.
Yes, this is difficult. But if you harbor good intentions, and focus more on improvement than who takes credit, you gradually figure the nuances out. The world relies on improvement. People are waiting for you to shake them up with your unique ideas. Their skepticism is just part of the game.
So be patient, be kind, and be honest. Invest time and effort. And when you reap the rewards, I’ll be here to cheer you on.
If this post has convinced you about a different perspective, it’s duty is done. If not, I need to work on my convincing skills. What do you think? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.