Do you consider yourself good at persuasion?
I’m personally not.
The last time that I gave my speech about persuasion, someone from my Toastmasters club asked me:
Why do you want to be persuasive in the first place?
Well, I experienced situations when I wished badly to be persuasive.
I could change someone’s life and get it out of a destructive path.
Or make a team works in a way that benefits both them and the business.
I could influence clients and help them make better choices.
But those scenarios never happened. I failed over and over again.
Instead of making an impact, I was left with frustration and the feeling of uselessness.
Those experiences taught me this:
It’s not enough to have good intentions, brilliant ideas, or speak out loud. We need to speak in a certain way.
When we want to change someone else’s mind, we throw to them our facts, logic, and reasoning expecting to succeed.
And, most of the time, we don’t. We will soon understand why.
The Fundamentals of Persuasion
The Rider and The Elephant
In his book “The happiness hypothesis”, Jonathan HAIDT used the metaphor of the rider and the elephant to represent the 2 parts of our brain:
1) The Rider represents 1% of our mind; our reasoning part.
It’s rational, slow, and analytical.
It’s impotent but acts like he’s in charge.
2) The Elephant represents 99% of our mind and runs most of our behavior.
It’s intuitive, emotional, fast, and automatic.
Most of us spend a lot of time trying to persuade other people’s riders. We give them all these reasons to prove they are wrong. When in fact, the way to persuade people is to talk to their elephant. The elephant is much stronger than the rider.
If the elephant feels the truth behind what you’re saying and wants to walk your way, then it’s effortless to persuade the rider. But if you fail to convince the elephant, then there’s nothing you can do to persuade the rider.
Most of us are not rational, we make a decision in a second, based on our intuition, then we use our reasoning to justify our decision.
Persuasion Using Rhetoric
Persuasion is based on Mutual Understanding.
We cultivate mutual understanding and speak to other people’s elephants by using rhetoric.
Aristotle laid down three means of rhetoric: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos.
It’s an argument by character.
It uses the personality of the speaker, his reputation to establish credibility and goodwill.
The life of a person persuades much more than his words.
An argument by emotion.
It appeals to our sentiments.
The best illustration of pathos is the “I have a dream” speech. Martin Luther King was fighting for civil rights.
Imagine with me the moment he gave his speech.
He’s on stage, facing a crowd of 250 000 people, TV is there, all eyes are on him. He’s reading a prepared speech, and he was losing his audience when his friend shouted at him from behind: tell them about the dream, tell them about the dream! The rest is history.
How many of you would remember it if it was “I have a plan” speech”? Probably, none of you.
‘I have a plan’ speaks to the rider. ‘I have a dream’ speaks to the elephant, which is far more powerful.
An argument by logic.
It’s the easiest one to use and the hardest one to convince with. Basically, you make a claim and you give proofs of it.
You need to use concession to persuade with this one.
It’s more efficient when combined with the other two means of rhetoric.
A Case Study: Fred Rogers vs John Pastore
Fred Rogers was known for his PBS children’s program called “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”. A movie was released recently about him starring Tom Hanks.
To give you a little bit of context, it was 1969. The Vietnam war was expensive and President Nixon had proposed a series of budget cuts.
One of them targeted PBS. Nixon wanted to cut its $20-million budget by half.
John Pastore was a senator who had the power to stop the cut.
Now the scene is set for the pleading:
On one side, you have Pastore known for being tough and intimidating;
On the other side, you have Rogers, a mild-manner guy.
It sounds like an unfair fight. But wait, watch the video to see what happened.
Rogers’ calmness and sincerity alone could persuade anyone.
But pay attention to how he used different rhetorical tools. Logos is the one he used the less.
He spoke to the senator’s elephant and won back the totality of the budget.
A Powerful Tool That Never Fails
In 2009, a journalist by the name of Rob Walker wanted to prove that storytelling is the most powerful tool of all. That was his claim.
So, he bought 200 cheap objects from eBay and resold them later. Each object cost on average 1$.
For example, this plastic banana was bought for 25 cents and sold for a 76$.
What made those objects worth a hundred times their initial price?
Well, Rob Walker contacted 200 authors and asked them if they want to participate in The Significant Objects Project.
This means each author will write a story about one of the objects.
Here you have 200 objects bought for 129$, and with an added story, sold for 8000$! That’s insane.
So, imagine what you and I can accomplish by mastering the storytelling skill!!
Persuasion with Storytelling
Annette Simmons wrote in The Story Factor:
“Influence is a function of grabbing someone’s attention, connecting to what they already feel is important, and linking that feeling to whatever you want them to see, do, or feel. It is easier if you let your story land first, and then draw the circle of meaning/connection around it using what you see and hear in the responses of your listeners.”
Storytelling is such a powerful tool of persuasion because it triggers our emotions; it speaks to our elephant.
So if you want to be more persuasive, tell stories.
It can be the story of Who you are, Why you’re doing what you’re doing, Your Vision, or A Teaching lesson.
At the core of it, storytelling is about solving a problem—external, internal, or philosophical.
It starts with a setup. Then there’s a provoking incident that disturbs the normality. A search for solutions follows up. And, in the end, there’s the resolution.
No one is born a master of storytelling. With regular practice, we can all become better at it.
Jay Heinrichs, the author of the bestseller Thank You for Arguing, reminds us of what is not persuasion when he said:
“A fight never persuades; it only inspires revenge or retreat.”
It is indeed the last thing that we want.
If we speak in a certain way, we can create goodwill in people and avoid resistance or resentment.
We can inspire, make change happen, and leave a footprint out there.
Just remember that most of us are not rational creatures and use stories to make your point.
Article posted: 13 August 2020
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