All the extremely successful people I know — and all the great leaders I know — are exceptionally good at persuading other people to follow them.
(Maybe that’s why Mark Cuban says knowing how to sell is the one skill everyone needs to be successful.)
But being persuasive doesn’t mean you have to manipulate or pressure other people. At its best, persuasion is the ability to effectively describe the benefits and logic of an idea to gain agreement — and that means we all need to be more persuasive.
And that’s why the art of persuasion is critical in any business or career — and why successful people are extremely good at persuading others.
How can you reach your kids to become effective leaders?
1. Teach them to start with small “wins.”
Research shows that gaining agreement has an enduring effect, even if only over the short term.
So teach your kids to focus not on jumping right to the end of their arguments but to start with statements or premises they know their audience will agree with. Build a foundation for further agreement.
Remember, a body in motion tends to remain in motion, and that also applies to a head nodding in agreement.
2. Teach them not to be afraid to take strong stands.
You would assume data and reasoning always win the day, right? Nope. Research shows humans prefer cockiness to expertise. We naturally assume confidence equates with skill.
Even the most skeptical people tend to be at least partly persuaded by a confident speaker. In fact, we prefer advice from a confident source, even to the point that we will forgive a poor track record.
So teach your kids to be bold. Teach them to stop saying “I think” or “I believe.” Teach them to stop adding qualifiers to their speech. Tell them, “If you think something will work, just say it will work. If you believe something will work, just say it will work.”
Teach your kids to stand behind their opinions — even if they are just opinions — and to let their enthusiasm show. People will naturally gravitate to their side.
3. Teach them to adjust their rate of speech.
There’s reason behind the “fast-talking salesman” stereotype: In certain situations, talking fast works. Other times, not so much.
Here’s what one study indicates:
- If your audience is likely to disagree, speak faster;
- If your audience is likely to agree, speak slower.
Why? When your audience is inclined to disagree with you, speaking faster gives them less time to form their own counterarguments, giving you a better chance of persuading them.
When your audience is inclined to agree with you, speaking slowly gives them time to evaluate your arguments and factor in a few of their own thoughts. The combination of your reasoning plus their initial bias means they are more likely to, at least in part, persuade themselves.
In short: If your kids are preaching to the choir, teach them to speak slowly; if not, they should speak quickly. And if their audience is neutral or apathetic, teach them to speak quickly so they will be less likely to lose other people’s attention.
4. Teach them to know how their audience prefers to process information.
A fellow supervisor used to frustrate the crap out of me. (Read the next paragraph to see how that swearing thing works.)
I was young and enthusiastic and would burst into his office with an awesome idea, lay out all my facts and figures, wait breathlessly for him to agree with me … and he would disagree.
Every. Freaking. Time.
Finally — it took way longer than it should have — I realized that he wasn’t the problem. My approach was the problem. Not to go all Myers-Briggs on you, but he was an “I.” He instinctively wanted time to think. He liked to process. By demanding an immediate answer, I put him on the defensive, which meant he fell back on the safe choice: Saying no.
So I tried a different approach. “I have an idea that I think makes sense,” I said, “but I feel sure there are things I’m missing. If I run it by you, could you think about it for a day or two and then tell me what you think?”
He loved that approach. One, it showed I valued his wisdom and experience. Two, it showed I didn’t just want him to agree — I genuinely wanted his opinion. And most important, it gave him time to process my idea his way.
Teach your kids not to push for instant agreement if someone’s personality style makes that unlikely. And teach them not to ask for thought and reflection if their audience loves to make quick decisions and move on.
5. Teach them not to be afraid to be (appropriately) “unprofessional.”
Take swearing. Cursing for no reason is just cursing.
But say a team needs to pull together immediately pull together. Tossing in an occasional — and heartfelt — curse word can actually help instill a sense of urgency because it shows you care. (And of course it never hurts when a leader lets a little frustration or anger show, too.)
In short, teach your kids to be themselves. Authenticity is always more persuasive. If they feel strongly enough to slip in a mild curse word, they should feel free (in the right setting, of course.) Research shows they’re likely to be a little more persuasive.
(And don’t tell me your kids never curse. They do. Didn’t you?)
6. Teach them to focus on describing positive outcomes.
While it’s tempting to use scare tactics, positive-outcome statements tend to be more persuasive. (Researchers hypothesize that most people respond negatively to feeling bullied into changing a behavior.)
So if your kids are trying to create a change, tell them to focus on sharing the positives of that change. They want to take their audience to a better place, not tell their audience what to avoid.
7. Teach them to share the good and the bad.
According to University of Illinois professor Daniel O’Keefe, sharing an opposing viewpoint or two is more persuasive than sticking solely to your argument.
Why? Very few ideas or proposals are perfect. Your audience knows that. They know there are other perspectives and potential outcomes.
So teach your kids to meet objections head on. Tell them to talk about the things their audience may already be considering. Teach them to discuss potential negatives and show how they will mitigate or overcome those problems.
Teach your kids to talk about the other side of the argument — and then do their best to show why they’re still right.
8. Most of all, teach your kids not to just say they’re right. Teach them to be right.
Persuasive people understand how to frame and deliver their messages, but most important, they embrace the fact that the message is what matters most.
Teach your kids to be clear, concise, and to the point. Teach them to win the day because their data, reasoning, and conclusions are beyond reproach.
What’s true for your kids applies to all of us: The art of persuasion should simply be the icing on an undeniably logical cake.