Everything You Know About How To Be Persuasive Might Be Wrong

Written By John Sonmez

They say that everything in life is a sale.

From convincing your significant other to pick their socks up off the floor to implementing a new test pattern at the office, right down to actually selling your products and ideas, you are constantly in the midst of a conversation or situation that will involve you negotiating your position to bring others to your side of the solution.

I get it. That already sounds so cynical and manipulative that any person with a soul and/or in their right mind would absolutely want to click out of the site, never to read another post on Simple Programmer again.

Those people are at an unfortunate disadvantage, and probably don’t get as many of the things that they want in life.

They are the folks who are saddened by the fact that they are “unlucky” and that often complain that no matter how hard they try, they just can’t get ahead. With their careers; with their finances; in their day-to-day lives.

It isn’t that they are bad people, or people who don’t deserve to achieve the same successes and wins as the rest of us.

Instead, they refuse to acknowledge that in order to get what you want, you have to be willing to not only make the ask, but also do the work to show your spouse/colleagues/customers that your choice is the obvious choice that will result in a win-win for everyone involved.

Because at the end of the day, that’s the goal. A solution where everyone comes out a victor.

Win Win


So how does one get from never winning in life to a place where they can close any sale, personal or professional, without selling out and becoming a complete shrew? With over a decade in sales and training experience (and I successfully sold life insurance to families and entrepreneurs when I was 24 years old…no one wants to buy life insurance, let alone from a dopey 24-year-old!) here are some of the strategies I developed to persuade people I worked with and for, daily.

Know What You Want

Ever had a conversation with someone who was trying to ‘figure it out'?

Ever bashed your head against a brick wall?

Ever gone on an acid trip so profound you felt colors or made friends with cartoon woodland creatures?

All of these experiences likely felt similar.

When you walk into a conversation, and you aren't sure what it is you are even trying for, that conversation is going to turn painful and convoluted very fast.

You have to have a solution or end result in mind if you want to direct a person towards something. Otherwise, you are not having a persuasive conversation, you are having an intellectual discussion. Or, as often happens, you are playing mental badminton and batting an idea-shuttlecock between your two rackets.

How Do You Change This?

I like to know all my options before I even begin to attempt the decision-making process.

Let's go with an easy example that everyone has struggled with in their lives.

Where should we go for dinner?

Whether it is your partner or co-workers or a friend, there have been real life blood matches over this question (I'm sure…I don't actually have proof of such conversations, but this topic can get real fast!)

In this case, the simple thing you need to decide is: What do you want? Are you in the mood for any particular type of food? Any favorite comfortable spots that you know will get you exactly what you want? Or do you want to try for something new and exciting?

Take a moment to be selfish, we all are, even though most don't like to admit it. Then begins the persuasion process…

Come To The Table Prepared

Sometimes worse than someone who has no idea what they want, is someone who has no idea why they want something.

This is like that co-worker who keeps telling you that you must complete your scrum cycles in a particular way. When you ask why, trying to gain insight into what must be their brilliant process since they so resolutely believe in it, they respond “Oh, because.”

As any parent knows, that answer doesn't work for three-year-olds, and it rarely works for adults.

When you are in the process of persuasion, you don't want to be ill-informed. Your opinion will immediately lose credibility, and it will be too easy for the other side to argue against you. Know the reasons for your solution, and understand the reasons against.


How Do You Change This?

In this case, you'll want to consider a number of probing questions to determine what the best outcomes might be. Many will call this “weighing the upside vs. downside”. Consider things like:

  • How hungry is everyone? What will the wait time be?
  • Do you want drinks with your dinner?
  • A particular budget in mind?

Once you take these preliminary concerns into account, you can choose a couple different spots that fit the bill, and that you know you want to go to (from the first step) and are ready to move on, fully informed.

Make It Sweet With Some KISSes

Who doesn't love being lavished with kisses?

While kisses of the soft-lipped nature are always nice, this isn't about that kind of communication.

Instead, it is an acronym that reminds you to focus on the most important things. There are many variations, some not so kind (Keep ISimple, Stupid), and some a bit more diplomatic (Keep ISuper Simple).

Whichever you choose to adopt as your mantra, you want to keep the debate over a decision on-topic, and not let it get off track.

When you start bringing up unrelated points, or rambling on about irrelevant data, you lose control. No one wants to be caught listening to the way things used to be done at your old company, if it has no immediate application to the solution you are trying to implement in the office today.

Your train of thought might see the connection, but unless you can take people along that mental journey quickly, they'll never get to the station.

How Do You Change This?

You know where you want to eat, and you know why you want to eat there. Culminate that data into an almost bulleted list, explaining how you came to your decision. Have the upsides and downsides readily available, to show how you have thought this through.

  • What makes your decision the best decision for everyone involved?
  • Is there any background information or interesting facts that will be relevant to the choice?

Now is not the time to explain the earth-shattering documentary you watched on the history of curry, unless you learned are in the mood for some Indian noms and naan, and are willing to share with everyone what you learned as they dig into some tikka masala. Even if this is the route you decide to take, hit the highlights.

Attitude Determine Altitude

A mean spirit doesn't win people over, and irritating defensiveness will only push people away.

Nana's advice is appropriate here: “You'll catch more flies with honey than you will with vinegar.”

Or, to KISS you a bit, make sure to smile.

This one simple change may just change the entire tone and caliber of your conversations and discussions.

As a humanity, we hate losing a fight. Or a debate. Or a decision. It sucks even more when you lose to someone who is a jerk. Often, we'll fight with people about things we mostly agree on, just because someone is being so difficult.

How Do You Change This?

Your dinner friend(s) want to grab burgers at the pub, while you are dying to share with them the exotic tales of paprika and cumin from the Spice Road of the early 1000's.

Telling them that their idea is dumb, that they are going to die of heart disease from eating red meat, or crossing your arms and refusing to go to a place that is not your choice is not going to persuade someone who your choice might be delicious as well.

Just ask any vegan. (I kid! I love a good vegetarian or vegan meal.)

Instead, smile and nod, and listen to what they have to say. Even if their idea is dumb and the massive amount of red meat they consume on a weekly basis is shooting their cholesterol into the stratosphere.

Give Them a SayDepositphotos_102083370_m-2015 (1)

Similar to the harsh concept of KISS, another phrase you are going to want to adopt in your persuasive process is going to be “Sit down and shut up.”

Of course, you don't actually have to sit down.

The idea of shutting up when you are trying to win something is often the hardest for people to overcome, and it is why many fail at the attempts they make to sway others to their side.

When we are passionate about something, when we know we are right, when we really want to eat curry – we tend to try to control things by holding the talking stick the longest.

That doesn't always work though. If you are up against someone as stubborn or resolute as you, they will feel like their ideas are going unheard, and that you don't value their opinion.

Similar to the way that no one wants to come around to a jerk's point of view, mostly on principle, people don't like feeling unheard and unvalued.

How Do You Change This?

Let the other side talk.

Listen to why they have made the decision they've made. Understand what their expertise and experience has taught them about the situation, and how that applies to not only their opinion, but your own.

Allow them to ask you questions. Answer them and ask questions back. Give them a chance to tell you, either directly or indirectly with objections, why they disagree.

Is there a way you can find a compromise? Perhaps there's an English brewpub somewhere in your neighborhood? Curry recently overtook fish and chips as the #1 takeaway order in London, those people have got to have some incarnation of burgers AND Indian food on the menu.

Everything in Life is NOT a Sale

Yes, I said that at the beginning, but I was trying to sell you on how important these strategies would be for you to get the things that you want in life.

Did it work? Did you manage to make it past the next few paragraphs where I essentially advocated that you should strive to become a manipulative sociopath in all your interactions, personal and professional?

Well, now is the time that I am going to step away from that soapbox a bit and remind you of this important final parting thought:

You should never strive to become a manipulative sociopath.

That's a real disease that is scary and dangerous, and I know that all the readers of Simple Programmer are obviously good people, who do not want to become scary and dangerous. At least not in that way. Scary dangerous awesome coding skills are a completely different ball game!

While you are practicing getting those socks off the floor or perhaps trying a new system at work that will eliminate the need for a hundred redundant lines of code that the program inherited from 2003, absolutely wheel and deal your newly found powers of persuasion. You can find lots more programming and career specific examples in John's Soft Skills book, always a favorite for Simple Programmer readers.

But some battles are just not worth fighting. Either because they are exhausting or because too many of them will alienate those that you care about. Or maybe, just maybe, someone else's powers of persuasion will make you realize that you didn't realize that point of view before, and you might just agree with it more.

Don't be the person who is always picking fights and debating the quintessential life worth of the long-standing ranch vs. bleu cheese dressing for hot wing controversy.

If something doesn't deeply matter to you, let it go. Take a deep breath, smile, and let the other person have it.

Cause they need some wins in their life as well.

Or, you can compromise.

Personally, blanch dressing (bleu cheese crumbles mixed with ranch dressing) is my go-to hot wing dip.

But I'm always up trying new things.

How good are you at persuading people to do the things you want? Any advice we missed out on here? Any opportunities you might have missed out on, because you didn't know how to share your point of view in a way that turned into a win for everyone involved? Lemme know in the comments below.