The Art of Persuasion: How to Hone Your Influencing Skills

The art of persuasion, of influencing the people around you, is a vital skill in the workplace. Without it, you’ll simply be ineffective. Sure, you can bend people to your iron will, or get people to do what you want with compulsion, manipulation or coercion, but at the cost of trust and long-term cooperation with colleagues or customers.

Persuasion is a different beast; subtle, but far more powerful in the long-term. So, how can you can you hone your influencing skills, to benefit yourself and those around you? Well, there’s a certain amount of groundwork you need to lay first.

Whether it’s a telephone pitch to a potential client or influencing colleagues at work, the same principles apply even if the timescales differ

It’s not (just) about the benefits.

We all know there are things we should be doing for our own benefit, but never quite get round to. The forces that motivate us aren’t quite as simple as personal gain or loss, punishment or reward.

You can have an incredible pitch on paper, but people will respond to you, or rather how they perceive you, as much as what you have to say.

Emotion screws with the wiring when we make decisions. Of course you need the numbers, but it’s never enough just to make them understand your case. They have to be eager to do business with you.

If you want to be heard, listen.

Gaining trust is essential, and you may only have one chance at it.

Giving the other person chance to speak not only gives you vital clues to their wants, needs and mood, but also shows that you aren’t just there to look after your own interests.

On the phone, you have to work fast to gain trust. Get off on the right foot by asking them if they have time to talk now, and promise to be brief. They then know that you value their time and are responsive to their needs, and you know whether you have their full attention even if you have to call back at a better time to get it.

If you just launch into your pitch, they might just be waiting for you to stop speaking about what you want so they can get on with their day.

“Yeah, sounds interesting… why don’t you email me the details and I’ll get back to you?”

Don’t call us, we’ll call you.

Use — and remember — people’s names.

As Dale Carnegie wrote in How to Win Friends & Influence People,

“…a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

And its value is immeasurable when interacting with others. Knowing this though, some people overdo it and like to remind you that they have remembered your name.

“So, James, what I’d like to offer you, James, is the chance to save 20% on your, James, subscription with us”

This just comes across as unnatural and a bit creepy, but only because it’s been over-cooked and is obviously insincere.

On the other hand though, forgetting or failing to use someone’s name can kill a deal long before you get a chance to even start negotiating. Remember, and use people’s names, because its one detail that really matters.

Show gratitude.

When someone does something for you, show gratitude.

A few years ago,  I happened to be working my first Saturday in a sports-obsessed pub in Leeds on a night when the England Football and Rugby teams both won crucial matches. It was 5-deep at the bar all night, and we didn’t get a moment’s break for over 6 hours. It was exhausting work, we were understaffed and underpaid, and the customers were drunk, rude and impatient.

But the reason I remember that night is that the boss paid us for an extra hour and bought all the staff pizza at the end of the shift. It was a totally unexpected  gesture (and cheap, considering the amount of business we did that night), but sealed her staff’s loyalty.

The staff at that pub were punctual and reliable because the boss showed she cared and appreciated our effort. As a result, nobody wanted to let her down.

People are far more likely to respond positively to persuasion if you’ve shown appreciation in the past.

Of course benefits and returns on investment matter, but be sincere in your appreciation for other people, and they’ll give you the chance to show them how awesome it will be to work with you.

(Image courtesy of lunarpersuasion under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 generic license.)

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I write the Three Month Thesis website, and teach students how to work awesomely on their thesis.


  1. Eric on the 5th April

    “How to Win Friends and Influence People” was the single most influential book of my life. It improved my marriage, my relationship with my toddler son, my job, and my moonlighting freelance work. Good article!

  2. Yash Sehgal on the 22nd August

    People really love when called by their name.It gives a personal touch to the conversation.

    One more thing that works when influencing people is gifting them a small gift before proposing our that way the other person is more likely to say yes.

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