The Nature of Persuasion, Part 2: Expand Your Understanding

This is the second article in a series of eight on the nature of persuasion.

In the first article, we looked at what it was.

We saw that persuasion covers the gamut of influence, everything from a gentle request to the use of force, and we acknowledged that in order to have a positive influence on staff and customers, the “gentle touch” was most effective.

We also learned why people needed to be persuaded at all - that it’s because we all of us tend to choose the line of least resistance rather than what’s necessarily the best.

We also outlined the Persuade Model, and then expanded on the first point: Planning and preparation.


In this article, we’re going to first of all look at the nature of persuasion again, and then we’ll delve into the second part of the model.


The nature of persuasion, reprise

Persuasion can be seen from two perspectives; two sides, if you prefer.

  • The first side is the activity itself; the action that you take.
  • The second side is the result.

The two are inseparable.


Now the first thing that must be said is that no matter what action you take, you will get a result. That may seem obvious to you; but what often happens is that when the wrong action is chosen, then that gives you the wrong result.

For example, how do you motivate your staff?

Do you try to do so by paying them a bonus?

Or do you provide them with PPE, Personal Protective Equipment?

Or do you strive to treat them fairly?

All of these things are commendable, but they’re also expected. If you’ve been reading the posts on this blog, you’ll know that none of them will motivate anyone; and so if you’re expecting to motivate people by doing them, then you’ll be very disappointed.

No one is going to work harder because you pay them a bonus.



It’s because they believe that they deserve it. They believe that you’re giving them what they should get regardless. The same thing is true of PPE and treating them fairly.

Granted, you’ll demotivate them if you don’t do these things or if you’re inconsistent in doing them; but that doesn’t mean that you’ll motivate them because you do them.

The two things are very different. So there will always be a result from the action that you take.


The second thing is that the result you desire should determine the action that you take. This is the next logical step.

If each action yields a result, then it follows that if you want a particular result, then you must do whatever it takes to obtain it. In other words, it won’t happen accidentally. It won’t happen if you do the wrong thing, and it won’t happen unwittingly. You won’t accidentally close a big sale by doing something that doesn’t lead your prospect to that conclusion.

Instead, you have to do the one thing which is known to close the deal, such as ask for the order, for example. If you don’t ask, then the chances that someone will volunteer to buy are remote. That’s because asking for the order is part of the selling process.

Sometimes we say that you have to connect the dots for people. Asking for the order is one of the most important dots.


The third thing is that the result - the outcome - is more than the end of the process.

When you ask someone to do something, no matter what it is, that person will only do it if there’s the conviction that what you’ve asked is the right thing to do.

Now this is really important.

You must grasp this.

When you employ a particular action, it’s so that you’ll get a specific result. The people that you’re dealing with, however, will not give you that result unless and until they are absolutely certain that that’s the outcome that they want.

In other words, you’re wanting it is an insufficient reason. And so your goal must be to get that person to think like you do. Ironically, that means that you must first learn to think the way others do.

Have you noticed how infrequently this happens?

When managers attempt to motivate staff with things that are known not to motivate, what’s happening? What’s happening is that they’re approaching the problem solely from the way that they think; not from the way other people think.

When salespeople talk the leg off the prospect and then change their offer left, right, and centre trying to make the sale, what’s happening?

What’s happening is that they’re reinventing dancing because they’ve failed to think like the prospect.

And that leads us into the second step in the Persuade Model: Expand your understanding.


Expand your understanding

In this step, the goal is to learn more about your customer or prospect.

We’ll look at personality differences in another article. Right now, you’re at the beginning of the relationship. You’ve just met, or you’ve met before, but you’re still only acquaintances.

What you have to do now is build rapport.

You have to get the person you’re talking to or meeting with to trust you. He or she has to be confident that you know what to do, that you’re able to do it, and also that you are willing.

If any one of those things is missing, the relationship won’t mature past a certain point. And in order to persuade someone to act in a particular way, whether it’s to carry out a task or to buy something, these three characteristics have to be there.


How do you do that?

By asking questions.

You start out by taking a genuine interest in the person you’re talking to.  You can’t fake it, so don’t even try. Any suspicions along those lines, and you’ll blow it; and you may never get another chance to put it right. Trust takes time to create and seconds to lose.

And so you ask and listen; ask and listen. You make meaningful comments that prove that you’re the competent leader, manager, or salesperson that you want the other person to believe that you are.

In writing, we say that you should show; not tell. You show by demonstrating knowledge, good judgement, and integrity.

You don’t tell the other person that these things are true of you. You let him or her draw that conclusion on the basis of the answers you give and the questions that you ask.


In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey says that you must “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”.

You gain understanding by listening and asking good questions. Only when the other person asks you for clarification or more information, do you have permission to make yourself understood.

So many people try to control the conversation, and they do it by forcing others to understand them. What they fail to realise is that in so doing they’re proving that they not only don’t understand others, but don’t want to.


Compassion and empathy

You must also show compassion and empathy. Empathy is putting yourself in the shoes of the other person. It’s finding out what he or she thinks is important.

Did you get that?

Empathy is unrelated to making yourself understood. You’re there in the capacity of a helper. Compassion is the outworking of that empathy. It’s more than feeling what others feel. It includes making allowances for those feelings.

In leadership or managerial situations, it may mean that leniency is applied, rather than the strict letter of the law. In sales, it may mean discounting your price or offering a payment plan. It’s being flexible with others because of your genuine concern for them.

If you’re unable to place yourself in their shoes like this, then it proves that you lack empathy. You’ll never be able to fully understand the needs of someone else unless you develop that skill. If you lose patience when people cry, for example, then you lack empathy.

Crying occurs when the feelings of the other take over.

Most adults and, above a certain age, many children are embarrassed when they cry in public. It’s when they are most vulnerable, and when it happens they need you to understand how they feel; not to express your exasperation.

This second step is really the first step in the process.

The planning and preparation step is something you do before you talk to anyone.

When you seek to understand others, you’re at the beginning of a relationship. And whether you’re leading or managing or selling, you must get this part right; otherwise none of what follows will matter.


Want to read more about persuasion? Read this book

If you need to improve your persuasiveness – email Bob Hayward now.


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