The Nature of Persuasion, Part 4: Summarise

Thus far in our series on persuasion, we’ve considered what it is and isn’t, and why it’s needed.

We’ve seen that in all persuasion efforts, there’s an action and a corresponding outcome. Even though that may seem obvious, it drives home the point that you can get an outcome that you don’t expect if you take the wrong action.

It’s vital that you understand that.

The essence of communication, and persuasion is just one part of it, is that those to whom you give your message - whatever it is - receive the one that you intended. If they can’t make sense of what you say, then it’s not their fault if they do something other than what you wanted.

The goal of the persuasion model is to enable you to become a great persuader. This article marks that halfway point, not only in the series, but also in the thought process that’s necessary to be effective at it.

It’s at this stage that you need to summarise what you’ve learned.

You’ve planned and prepared for the encounter, you’ve sought to understand the other person better, and you’ve rationalised what you learned into manageable-sized bits so that you can get a handle on the problem. Now it’s time for Step 4: to summarise what you’ve learned.



This is the first place where you get to talk more. It’s where you summarise what has been discussed thus far.

Your purpose is to make sure that you understand what you’ve been told, and that that is an accurate picture according to the person that you’ve been listening to. Part of the act of persuasion is getting both of you to the point where you agree on the problem. If you don’t share that, then you won’t agree on the solution either.

You have to be careful how you do this.

It mustn’t sound canned. Instead, it has to be genuine. That means that you have to use your own words. You have to be transparent. You have to be yourself. (Oscar Wilde would add that, “Everyone else is taken”.)

In other words, it has to sound like you’re saying it; not as though you memorised it out of a book on how to persuade people. When you’re astute to how this part of the process should sound, then you’ll be able to spot a mile away those who are just copying someone else.



There’s nothing that says that you can’t do this as you go along. In fact, it will probably make the entire process that much easier.

You see the goal is to enable you to understand the whole situation well enough to make a reasoned “plea” that will make someone else do what you’d want them to.

And so you mustn’t feel as though you’re wedded to following discrete steps: First Step 1; then Step 2; then Step 3, and so on.

As in any process, the steps are described as a linear sequence; but when it comes to doing them, you may be flitting back and forth between or among them.

So you have to remember why you’re doing it, rather than worrying about completing one step before moving onto the next one.



However, you choose to do it, you do need to remain flexible.

Flexibility enables you to be genuine and to avoid sounding like you’re trying to remember a script. Of course, it also means that you have to be very well prepared.

Think of the best television shows or movies you’ve seen.

The actors know their lines cold. They don’t have to think about what they’re going to say next. Now think of some programmes you’ve seen that didn’t feel spontaneous. One person says one thing. Then someone else says something else.

Because it’s unnatural, you can sense that each is waiting for the other to finish his or her lines. Nowadays, you can witness this on the morning television news stations. They all do it, and it’s painful to watch.


Avoid criticism

You must remember that in this step, your goal is to summarise your understanding of what you’ve learned. It could be that you’ll ask deeper questions or ask the other person to clarify something that was said. Whatever you do, you must avoid criticising that person . . . at all.

You’re not there to lay blame. You’re there to learn, no matter what you may think.

And you must avoid criticising anyone else, too, unless you have firsthand knowledge. Even then, you must keep it impersonal. You could say, for example, “I had a client that did X” and then explain the relevance of the example; but you must not name the company or the individual concerned. Name-dropping can drop you in it.

The perception will be that if you’re that willing to share the confidential details of someone else, then you’re likely to be equally casual with the information that your prospect or client is sharing with you now.

In fact, that’s a good thing to remember.

Anytime you hear something talking about someone else by name, you can rest assured that whatever you say will be passed around in one form or another. And so when you encounter it, then it should be a red flag that warns you to guard your speech.

Because the goal is to clarify and to summarise what you’ve learned, there’s no reason to try to impress someone with what you know or with your expertise.

If anything, the opposite should occur. This is a chance for you to prove that you’ve been listening.


How do you do it?

So how do you do this?

How do you prove that you’ve been listening?

You start by summarising what you’ve been told, and you do this even if you’ve sought clarity during the conversation.

Let’s consider an example.

In classical music, there is a structure known as sonata-allegro form. It’s common in Beethoven piano sonatas and most symphonies written in the 19th century. After a brief introduction, a theme is introduced. It may be repeated.

Then it is developed. Think of this as exploration and discovery; the discussion. Then the theme with some of the development is recapitulated. That means that it’s restated.

When you summarise, you’re doing exactly the same thing.

You’re revisiting the main points, adding in some of the detail, and from that drawing some conclusions. And the goal is to do it in a way that both accurately reflects what has been said and obtain the concurrence of the other party.

If you’re able to do that, then it will not only prove that you’ve been listening, but also demonstrate that you grasp the central issue.

Real skill is required to do this effectively. You’ll have to work at it. It’s not as easy as falling off a log, though some people might make it look like that.

You can expect that other person to add some more information. That’s not necessarily because you overlooked something; rather it’s because that person wants to participate in the summarisation.

Be sure that you don’t treat such contributions as an interruption or put the other person down, as if they’re trying to teach your grandmother to suck eggs.

If you do that, you’ll isolate them. After that, even if agreement results, that person will be reluctant to work with you. In other words, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to persuade that person as you had hoped.

In the next article, we’ll focus more specifically on the characteristics of the other person, rather than the issues.


Want to read more about persuasion? Read this book

In the meantime, if you need to improve your skills of persuasion, – email me,

Leave a comment...

If you found value in this blog you might also be interested in one or more of these…

bme client wins €15M project after bid coaching

Amazing – having previously failed to win a similar bid – this time following the involvement of Bob Hayward and Paul Etheridge of Be More Effective Ltd's a clients has just secured major €15 million bid.