Robert Scoble has done a thoughtful post – How do you persuade?.
If you listen to Donald Trump’s Apprentice show, or political advertising you’ll quickly pick up on the predominant method of persuasion:
Make the thing you’re trying to persuade people to do seem like it’s only good, and the behavior that you don’t want people to do seem like it’s only bad. Or, the “my stuff is great and their stuff sucks” method.
You think George Bush is going to say anything nice about John Kerry?
I watched the Apprentice show a week ago where the candidates needed to interview with Trump’s team. Did they talk about any of their own weaknesses? Even when asked about what those are? No. Our culture has taught us that when you want to persuade you should only talk about the strengths of the things you are trying to get people to do, and only talk about the negatives of the things you don’t want people to do (in this case, the interviewees wanted Trump to hire them and not their competitors. Persuasion skills at the highest level).
…But, is this really the best way to persuade someone to do something?
I look at two recent experiences in my life where I was persuaded to do something using another method that I’ll call “the authority method.”
He goes on to give some examples of people who really persuaded him because of their knowledge and passion for what they are doing. Their approach stands in contrast to the invulnerable method which seems still to be in fashion in some places. He asks
Do you take the “our product/idea/meme/service/etc is the best and the rest are crap” point of view? Or do you take “I’m an authority on this topic and I’m looking out for your best interests” point of view? Which is more likely to persuade you to change your mind?
Given that choice I know what I’d prefer. Though I’d be tempted to change the “authority ” label as it might encourage people to think this is a high-status game. (For a really great take on status games in branding, I love Bland Personality and Brand Character by Robert Poynton)
What shines through about the people who persuaded Robert was their approachability and openness. It’s a style that his own blog exemplifies and it succeeds in humanising the company he works for (Microsoft).
I’d take this a bit further. I do a fair bit of training/speaking/facilitating and I’m told I can be quite persuasive. But I’ve noticed that when I’m trying to persuade people I often feel unsatisfied. It actually feels like hard work. When I’m sharing my enthusiasm, that feels better. But what I love most is when someone interprets what I talk about in an unexpected way – which is when I get to learn something. That’s the sign of a learning relationship of equals, rather than a let-me-tell-you-how-it-is approach.
I guess I’m saying it might be better to let go of persuading in favour of sharing experience and seeing what happens. That’s the essence of co-creativity and it makes relationships vital and fun: less what-can-I-tell-you and more what-can-we-do-together? Then look at the comments to Robert’s blog and you’ll see the different styles played out… some are “do it this way!”; others cite academic authority (tends to put me off), and others more humbly talk about “what works for me”.
I’m typing this while peering at tiny fonts because I’m experimenting with setting my screen to a higher resolution. Why on earth am I doing this? Cos Robert also blogged about how he sets his at 1600×1200 and sounded so enthusiastic I thought I’d give it a try. I don’t know if he was trying to persuade me and I might go back to my familiar settings – but I’ve had fun playing and that counts for a lot.