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Saturday, January 20, 2018

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Putting the sway in persuasion
Harvey Mackay

April, 2009

A man opened a fish market and displayed a sign that said, "Fresh Fish for Sale Here."

His first customer showed up, looked at the sign and said, "Why does it say 'fresh'? You wouldn't sell them if they weren't fresh, would you?" So the shopkeeper, not wanting to upset his customers, painted over the word "fresh."

Then another customer arrived. "Why does your sign say 'here'? This is where you are selling them, right?" So the shopkeeper got out his paint again and wiped out "here."

A third customer glanced at the sign and asked: "Why does it say 'for sale'? You're in business to sell fish, right? You aren't giving them away." The sign was painted again, and all it said was "Fish."

The shopkeeper figured he might finally sell some fish. But a fourth customer had a question too. "Why do you even need to say 'fish'? You can smell them a block away." Certain that his customer was on to something, he took his sign down.

Soon there were no customers at all. The shopkeeper went out of business.

He had failed Marketing 101: If you want to sell your product, no matter what it is, you have to persuade people to buy it. Trouble with the shopkeeper was that everyone else persuaded him to do business their way.

Bringing others around to your way of thinking is an art. It goes back as far as Adam and Eve—with the serpent persuading Eve to taste the apple. Perhaps not the best use of persuasion, but we can learn plenty from the serpent's urging.

Persuasion is much more than putting a positive spin on things. In fact, sometimes the reverse psychology approach is more powerful. (Think teenagers!) Perhaps you need to demonstrate a negative result to sway opinion. Sometimes, actions speak louder than words. To bring others around to your way of thinking, or to some specific action, you must be able to articulate your position so that others can see the advantage of following your plan—what's in it for them.

Anyone who is involved in negotiations knows the importance of persuasion. But there is a distinct difference. Negotiating means we both get some of what we want. You are satisfied with your deal, and I'm satisfied with what I got. That's the desired result.

But persuasion means you get what I want, and you thank me for giving it to you. That's a better result for both of us because I'm not asking you to give anything up, just to get a different, and more advantageous, result.

Benjamin Franklin was a master persuader. His methods required patience and endurance. He assumed people are won over slowly, often indirectly. Here are five of his bargaining strategies:

  • Be clear, in your own mind, exactly what you are seeking.
  • Do your homework, so that you are fully prepared to discuss every aspect and respond to every question and comment.
  • Be persistent. Don't expect to "win" the first time. Your first job is just to start the other person thinking.
  • Make friends with the person with whom you are negotiating. Put your proposal in terms of his or her needs, advantages and benefits.
  • Keep your sense of humor.

I would add one more bit of advice: Be honest and aboveboard. As Aristotle said, "Character may almost be called the most effective means of communication." Getting caught in a lie will persuade others, all right: To do the polar opposite of what you're asking.

Great political orators in history—Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Ronald Reagan—brought about positive societal changes with their persuasive powers. They were successful ultimately because they were passionate about their beliefs and presented their cases in such a manner that no one could misunderstand their message.

At an international conference, I witnessed a business training exercise that illustrates how persuasion can produce the desired result. The leader drew an imaginary line on the floor, and put one person on each side. Then she told each to convince the other to cross the line to come over to his side. Interestingly, players from the United States almost never convinced one another, but their Japanese counterparts simply said, "If you'll cross the line, so will I." They traded places—and both won!

Mackay's Moral: To get others to see things your way, you must look through their eyes.


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