Speaking The Language of Influence: 3 Paths To Persuasion

by Joseph Sommerville, Ph.D.

umbrellaThe word “persuasion” has gained a reputation it doesn’t deserve. Many tend to associate it
with advertising, propaganda or downright manipulation. On the contrary, it forms the very
foundation of an ethical sales process. It’s one of the most useful tools available for agents to
help prospects understand the benefits of their products.

You’ll be much more effective with sales if you’ll take the time to learn the three paths to
persuasion, some strategies about when to use each and some techniques that will make you
more effective.

There are only three ways to persuade someone verbally. Regardless of the personality types,
how many subliminal messages you try to plant in your conversation or how many other
pseudo psycho analytical tools you try to use, they’ll all be based on one of these three paths.
The Greek thinker Aristotle discovered them almost 2400 years ago and articulated them in
The Art of Rhetoric. Human nature hasn’t changed during that time and neither have the
principles of how to persuade someone.

The first path is logic. Logic depends on evidence or data plus reasoning. If you want to make the case that a new policy will save money, you’ll need to provide some evidence that it’s been
successful in similar situations. Some forms of logical evidence include statistics, examples, case
studies, analogies and expert testimony.

To be most effective, don’t assume that facts or statistics will speak for themselves. People can
interpret facts in different ways. For example, one person may see a higher deductible policy as
a way to save money, while someone else views it as increasing the burden on the policyholder.
Also, make sure that whomever you’re talking to has enough context to interpret the facts. A
credit score of 720 will make no sense to a prospect unless he realizes that individual credit
scores may range from approximately 330—850.

Finally, remember the adage “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” In
other words, you can’t beat someone over the head with the stick of logic. Some people are
not persuaded by logical argument and you can’t persuade them by browbeating them with how
sensible your position is. Logical argument tends to appeal to those who are detail-oriented
such as accountants, financial planners, engineers and those in technical fields. Recognize this
limitation and be prepared to try something else.

The second path to persuasion is emotion. It’s important to recognize that logic and emotion
are not opposites. After all, isn’t it reasonable to fear the consequences of unhealthy behavior?
So what are some of the things people fear within a financial environment? Physical and
psychological stress, unexpected or unforeseen problems, loss of a job, loss of the ability to
produce income, catastrophic health costs and the ability to provide for long-term care are at
the top.

The opposite of fear is confidence. The more you can do to replace fear with confidence in the
future, the more successful you’ll be in persuading someone. Show them how your suggestions
will solve their problems and anxieties. Emotional appeals must also be used ethically. You
shouldn’t try to make people fear threats that don’t exist and you should only use fear when
you can offer a solution to take it away. Narratives and factual examples are excellent vehicles
for emotional appeals.

The third path to persuasion is credibility. Being credible means both being recognized for your
expertise and being liked. The two are complimentary. An expert who isn’t liked has little
chance of making the sale and the well-liked person who has little knowledge will also be
unsuccessful. Your expertise will come as a result of your education, training and experience.
Prospects and clients expect you to have it. The likeability factor is what will differentiate you.

People like you when they realize you share similar interests, goals and objectives. In other
words, they see you’re on the same team as them. People also like you when they recognize
that you have common dislikes or enemies. The enemy doesn’t have to be a person. It might
be the bureaucracy, a policy or even a regulation. The point is, that when you can demonstrate
similarity, you become more likeable. Help prospects understand that you are an advocate for
them, not your organization.

Which of these three paths is the best? It all depends. It depends on the situation, your
objectives and whom you’re trying to persuade. You can sometimes use a combination or even
all three. The most important thing to remember is to focus on the other person. What you
find persuasive personally won’t always be the case with someone else. Since you’re trying to
persuade that person, you’ll need to orient your communication outward. Focus less on
delivering your message and more on adapting your message to your prospects.

You might even ask someone what she would find persuasive or what it would take for her to
accept your proposal. Ask what facts or evidence it would take to make her change her mind.
That clarifies her thinking, gives you criteria and lays out your groundwork for persuasion.

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