How to Persuade People in 3 Steps

The process of persuasion is the keystone and arch upon which all civilization rests, It accounts for our orderly system of living. If this were not true, man would still be carrying the ancient club to get by physical force the necessities of life.

At one time brute force was the only method of satisfying needs and wants. Under these uncivilized conditions all of life was simply a struggle for survival, and it belonged only to the “fittest”— the so-called “giants” of that day.

We have progressed far from the days of the cave man. To some extent the principle known as the “survival of the fittest” affects our civilization even in modern times. But those who survive today — those who have the greatest share of the rewards of life — are not necessarily people of physical prowess. There are individuals who have learned the art of persuading others to think and act as they desire. It is an art which each of us can develop if only we are willing to study certain basic principles and put them into use. To live successfully we must be able to sell our ideas to others.

We are engaged in the effort of persuasion from the moment we are born until we draw our final breath.

No one is more gifted in this quality than a tiny baby. He persuades us to feed him or change him by crying. When he wants to be picked up and loved he smiles and coos. What a sales pitch! Who can resist?

The little boy sells his teacher with an apple. The young blade, swept up by the first blush of love, presents his case to his sweetheart with candy or flowers.

Years ago a man would work on his proposal of marriage for days or even weeks (the most important sale of his life). I’m afraid this sale is often a little more casual today. But it’s still a vital sale, regardless of “who sells who.”

What man has not spent sleepless nights mentally rehearsing his approach to the boss in an effort to persuade him that a salary raise is in order?

As parents we give major importance to focusing all of our powers on instilling character in our children and on teaching them right living.

I’m sure you agree with me that the process of persuading people to think and act as we desire is the very essence of our existence. It is the balance wheel that gives stability not only to our entire economic system but to life itself.

I shall give you a very simple three-step formula, which, if followed, will enable you to accomplish this. Study this process carefully and practice it. If you master it your entire life can be changed overnight.

This article is not written for only those who make their livelihood selling products or services. We have books upon books which give dozens of sales formulae — “the attention, interest, confidence, persuasion and action” method. We read of the “make-the-point, pose-the-problem, offer-the-solution-and-appeal- for-immediate-decision” methods. I am not belittling any of the many patterns of salesmanship we find in every library today.

The three-step method which I offer is as applicable to a proposal of marriage, a request for a YWCA donation, an invitation to play a game of golf, or a request for a zoning ordinance, as it is to the sale of pots and pans, insurance, or a bicycle.

Before giving you this formula I ask you to pause for a moment and ask yourself a few questions.

How many times during the last twenty-four hours have you made an effort to persuade a person to think or act in a certain way? How many times you have been trying to persuade people to do something or believe in something? Do you know how to persuade people easily and without raising any problem or make them run away from you?

If you make your livelihood through the sale of a product or service I am sure the times are many, but regardless of what are your endeavors in this life I believe you will be surprised if you consider how often in your dealings with people you are called upon to persuade people, to convince and to sell your ideas to them.

Is your approach made in any organized pattern? Do you simply voice your ideas or desire, or do you present them so that they will be considered carefully? If you simply walk through life asking people to think or act in a certain way, with out carefully planning your strategy or even following a definite formula, believe me, you will live in a constant state of disenchantment. You will be a creature of circumstances, not a creator of circumstances. Things will happen to you — you will not happen to things. You will never be the cause; you will always be the result. People will be your problem, not your opportunity.

But if you take the time and effort to consider why people think and act as they do — if you are willing to embrace a three- step formula and use it on all occasions, you will marvel at the magic of life and how people react to your persuasive powers with almost hypnotic response.

Now for the three-step formula:

Step 1: Be Sure You Are Understood

This sounds simple and elementary, doesn’t it? And yet lawyers admit today that over one half of all the controversies that arise among people are caused not by differences of opinion or even inability to agree, but rather by lack of understanding. If this is true, think how much misunderstanding exists in our daily lives regarding the simple process of making ourselves understood.

Just how articulate are you? Are you sure you are making your thoughts clear to others? Don’t be too sure about it. A friend of mine recently came to me in great distress. He had just heard a playback of a speech he delivered at a company meeting. He explained sorrowfully that his audience had completely missed his message. He had been full of his subject matter and well informed on his assignment, but he had spoken as though his audience knew as much about his subject matter as did he. Consequently, his talk was full of blind spots of understanding. It had needed many foundations of enlightenment and bridges of explanation. His technical approach had been far over the heads of his listeners. Actually, his audience had not failed to get his message. The failure was on his part. He had not presented his ideas properly — just another example of a breakdown in communication.

The same holds true in individual conversation. Remember this always. People are not persuaded by what we say but rather by what they understand. How often, in trying to impress and persuade people, we only confuse them.

The great immortal creations in literature not only have the brilliance of brevity but also the dignity of simplicity. For instance, the Lord’s Prayer consists of only fifty-seven words, none more than two syllables. The Declaration of Independence, which revolutionized the thinking of the New World, can be read by a fourth grader in less than five minutes. If Lincoln had started speaking his Gettysburg Address in his simple words of splendor at the same moment our usual present-day after dinner speaker begins his oration, Lincoln would be on his horse riding away into oratorical immortality before our average speaker has even said grace over his flowery introduction.

Why do we forget the grandeur and greatness of simplicity when we approach the field of communication?

Words are the fingers that mold the mind of man. Further more, man’s mind is so much more pliable when our approach is direct and ungarnished. It does not respond to confusion. A con— fused mind hardens just as cement does.

Since our first concern in the art of persuasion is to be sure we are understood, let’s concentrate briefly on this one point for a moment.

We can say practically the same thing in two different ways arid the meanings are diametrically opposed.

If I told a lady, “You are truly a vision,” she would smile and feel complimented. However, if I told her she was a “sight,” I had better prepare to duck.

If I said to a lady, “When I look into your eyes, all time stands still,” I probably would have made a true friend, if I really meant it. And yet, if I told that same person that her “face would stop a clock,” I assure you I am not a likely candidate for distinction in her opinion.

A young theological student asked the Bishop if he were permitted to pray while smoking.

The reply was, “Yes, my son, it is all right to pray regardless of what you are doing.”

Another student asked the Bishop if he were permitted to smoke while praying.

The answer was, “Good gracious, no, it would be highly sacrilegious!”

While words are the fingers that mold the mind of man they still must be the proper words, and never forget they must be simple words that can be understood.

I heard of an incident not long ago which illustrates graphic ally my point of simplicity.

In Nogales, a town in southern Arizona on the Mexican border, there lived a little boy by the name of Angelo Salangelo. One day he crossed the border and came back with a wheelbarrow full of sand.

The customs inspector said, “Angelo, what are you smuggling in that sand?”

“Nothing,” came the reply.

“Pour it all out, so we can see,” demanded the inspector.

When nothing was found Angelo was permitted to cross.

The next day the same thing happened. This time the inspector made Angelo sift the entire wheelbarrow of sand through a screen.

The third day when he appeared again with the sand, the inspector said, “Angelo, I know you think some day we shall become careless and that’s when you’ll smuggle something across. As long as you bring sand across we are going to make you put it through a screen.”

And so he did. For five years Angelo would appear each day with a wheelbarrow full of sand and each day, without exception, the inspector would require Angelo to screen the sand.

Angelo prospered. He bought a big home in Nogales and soon opened a thriving business.

One day, many years later, the inspector, who had retired, met Angelo on the street.

“Angelo,” he said, “please do me a favor. I have laid awake and tossed many nights wondering what it was you were smuggling. I know it was something. You never made an honest dollar in your life and yet you have prospered—in fact, you are wealthy. What were you sneaking across the border into this country?”

Angelo smiled and said, “If I tell you, you won’t turn me in or cause me any trouble?”

The inspector said, “How can I? I no longer work on the border—I am retired. Anyway, the Statute of Limitations prevents any action after all these years. But, Angelo, to settle my mind, I must know.”

Angelo paused a moment, looked in all directions to be sure they were alone and then replied, “During those five years I smuggled 1,593 wheelbarrows into this country.”

Isn’t it strange that all of us are so concerned about the complex; the intricate and the difficult that we often ignore the simple and the obvious.

Yes, I repeat that our initial approach to this vital subject of the art of persuasion, which can affect our lives so materially, is to be sure at all times that our listeners understand us—that we are making ourselves clear.

Step 2: Think, Believe and Act in a Like Manner

The second ingredient so necessary to complete the recipe for causing others to think, believe and act as we desire is that we ourselves must first think, believe and act in a like manner. We cannot give that which we do not have. We cannot persuade people unless we, ourselves, are first persuaded and convinced. We cannot instill enthusiasm in others unless we ourselves are enthusiastic.

I once asked the general manager of a large corporation how he selected a man for a difficult assignment. He said that first of all he looked for a man who was convinced that the job could be done.

“This quality,” he continued, “will generate all the remaining qualities necessary for its accomplishment.”

Enthusiasm over a project is highly contagious—it spreads faster than a disease. It is the acid test of all we do whether it be joining in a project to straighten the leaning Tower of Pisa, raising funds for a boys’ camp, electing a mayor or selling a vacuum cleaner. It is controlled excitement. The word enthusiasm has its origin in the Greek word “Theus,” which liberally translated means “the God within us.”

The faculty of being able to believe in something deeply or become excited over something is truly a valuable asset. In order to possess this quality we must first be devoid of any sophistication and remove any cloak of cynicism.

The completeness of dedication is exhibited so beautifully in Rupert Brooke’s poem The Soldier:

If I should die think only this of me,
That there is some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England.
There shall be in that rich earth a richer dust concealed,
A dust whom England bore,
Shaped, made aware, gave once her flowers to love, her ways to roam.
A body of England, breathing English air
Washed by her rivers, blessed by the suns of home.

Here’s a man who says that when he dies he doesn’t want his name on a little marble slab. Just say “It’s a bit of England there.”

And when he climbs to the eternal joys of the bosom of God, where the heavenly chorus sounds His glories throughout the universe, just know that “there forever is a bit of England.”

The beauty of the poem is found in the fact that a man loses himself in a cause. His body, his energy, even his immortal soul have been fused into a great concept, a great passion, a great dedication—call it what you will.

This ability to believe and feel deeply, to merge ourselves into a great cause, is one of man’s noblest attributes. If we are gifted with such a quality we should be thankful. If not, we should seek to acquire it.

And so, when considering the Art of Persuasion let’s remember that in order to successfully cause others to think, believe and act as we desire, not only must we communicate clearly and understandably, but above all else we ourselves must have a compulsive dedication to that which we are presenting. We must be so full of belief and enthusiasm that it runs over the top and spills all over those we are seeking to persuade. When this is done the contagious quality is sure to take effect.

Step 3: Tell People What It Will Do for Them

And finally we approach the third quality so necessary to complete our formula for success in the field of persuasion.

If you are attempting to cause me to believe or act in a certain way, please tell me what it will do for me—how it will serve my interests, not yours. Unless you are bringing me some benefit or solving some problem of mine, directly or indirectly, I am afraid you will not find within me a responsive note, a vulnerable spot, a hot button. Unless you can show some advantage to me I am missing or some benefit to me I can enjoy, then regardless of your enthusiasm I promise you I shall remain complacent.

If you ever attempt to sell me a home, explain what it will do for me. I’m not concerned about the anxiety of the owner to dispose of it or the need of the broker for a commission. Please be concerned about serving me and solving my problem. If my problem is solved, automatically the problem of the owner and the broker will be settled.

Remember, we can’t prosper except in bringing prosperity to others. We can’t become rich except through enriching others.

One of the most treasured privileges of my life was to be home at the time the great poet Edwin Markham was a house guest for a week.

One day a man asked the great poet Edwin Markham at lunch, “Mr. Markham, what do you consider the greatest poem you ever wrote?”

He expected Edwin Markham to say “Lincoln,” “The Man With the Hoe,” or another of his immortal greats.

Mr. Markham stood up, stretched out his arms, threw his head back covered with his long, flowing white hair and said, “I wrote four lines which I treasure more than all else I wrote during my entire life.”

Still looking up he began:

He drew a circle and shut me out,
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win,
We drew a circle and took him in.

I am sure that we can draw from this poem one of the greatest of all lessons in the art of persuasion. In order to persuade a person, in order to cause him to think, believe or act in a certain way, we are not required to pierce the circle he draws around himself, or scale or break down the wall of protection he builds. If we are truly imbued with the spirit of service, if our greatest concern is his interest, all we must do is to draw a larger circle—build a larger wall around him, and his circle or wall will simply dissolve or crumble in our larger protective structure.

A jellyfish cannot crush an oyster. But, by surrounding it, all that is alive of the oyster dissolves within the jellyfish and the oyster is no more.

If our motives are honorable, if our prime concern is to per form some service for another, any resistance which we encounter simply fades away and is erased by our dominant concern for his welfare.

Many emotions can be faked and camouflaged but our sincere interest in helping others is not one of them. Unless our compulsion for service exceeds our passion for gain—unless the dollar we earn is just a by-product of the service we render, well, there are not going to be enough of those dollars to make any difference any way. Many years ago I heard a man make a statement that if our prime consideration in any endeavour is simply to make money, dollars will slip through our fingers as though we were trying to pick up a handful of water. But, he continued to say, that if our major concern is to solve another’s problem, pretty soon dollars would come around and beg to play in our back yard just to see what kind of fellow we are.

One of the greatest stories I ever read was one I found written in French. It was during college and we were translating French stories. Today I am sure I couldn’t order from a French menu, but at that time I had a little more knowledge of the language.

The story was entitled, “The Servant of the Kingdom.”

The king’s cupbearer was walking in a dense forest near the palace one day.

He was approached by a giant genie who said, “You have been a good man and I can give you one wish, but be careful before you make it because you can have only one.”

The man thought for a while and said, “All my life I have served others. In fact I’m known as the ‘Servant of the Kingdom.’ In the future I’d like for people to wait on me and serve me for a change. Yes, that’s what I want—I want the tables turned. In the future I want people to do for me.”

The genie said, “Are you sure this is what you want? My powers are limited to granting only one wish.”

“Yes, yes,” was the eager reply.

Sure enough, when the man came back to the castle there was a footman to open the door for him. When he tried to serve the king, someone else had taken his place. Regardless of how hard he tried, he could do nothing for anyone—everything was done for him.

The first month the newness of the experience amused him. The second month it became irritating. Finally, during the third month it became unbearable.

So, he went back into the forest and after much search found the genie.

He approached him thus, “I’ve decided that having people wait on me and do for me isn’t as much pleasure as I thought. I’d like to return to my original station in life. Again, I want to be the “Servant of the Kingdom” and do for other people.”

The genie said, “I’m sorry but I can’t help you. I explained that I had the power to grant only one wish.”

The man said, “But you don’t understand. I want to serve other people. I find it is far more rewarding to do for others than to have others do for me.”

Again the genie said, shaking his head, “I am without power to help you.”

In desperation the man begged, “But you must help me—you must! Please let me do for others. I’d rather be in hell than not be able to serve my fellow man!”

The genie, as he vanished, said sorrowfully, “Where do you think you have been, my friend, for the last ninety days?”

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