Persuade, don’t argue. How to get people to take action and do stuff.

posted in: Mind Tools, Shop Manual for Men | 0

My approach to life is that if I learn something well enough to teach it to someone else, then I have a pretty good handle on the subject. I have to confess to you that this is one of the more difficult subjects I’ve ever tried to do that on. I’ve always thought of myself as a reasonable guy, and that people could reason out their problems given enough time, understanding and explanation. But, in the past year I’ve come to the conclusion that people for the most part aren’t rational. Including you and me. Oh, you and I think we are, but more often than not we take actions based on mental shortcuts or emotion.

Can you get people to do stuff?

When you come right down to it, you and I want to either get people to do what we want, or to think like we think. It’s called persuasion, and the only proof of success is a change of mind and action. I say “and” because if I truly changed your mind, you would take a different action than you are now. Is it really persuasion if some one mentally agrees with you, but keeps on doing the same thing? I don’t think so.

Life for you and me is all about relationships with other people, and working together with people to get something done. It might be working with your wife to raise kids, or working with your friends to move a ball down the field, or working with your boss, coworkers or employees to accomplish some business goal. Life is full everyday of getting stuff done with one or more people. Let’s just say you and I know what we are doing and others, not so much. The better we are at persuading people around us to a change of mind and action, the more successful you and I are in life. We get more done, we have more influence, we win more games, we make more money.

Do you win most of your arguments?

Arguments sometimes start out with fire and smoke, but sometimes they start out very pleasant. Once in great while you and I might even have a pleasant argument from start to finish with someone. Usually those are just called discussions. Argument has a bad taste to it. If I tell you I had an argument with my wife what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? Anger? Yelling? Slamming of doors? Let’s just admit that most arguments are unpleasant affairs, and that most arguments aren’t really won by either side.

What would winning look like? To me, winning an argument is when the other side is blinded by the light of my reason, and falls to their knees saying “you are right , how could I be so blind?” and happily go off and do as I request. Ever win an argument like that? Didn’t think so. I haven’t either. Arguments are based on your logic and reasons vs. the logic and reason of someone else. But again I say to you, most people don’t make decisions based on logic and reason, in other words on arguments. They make decisions on five emotional and/or mental shortcuts. Until you learn these five ways of persuading people, you will not be successful in doing anything with people.

Robert Cialdini in his book “Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion” goes into some detail showing how most of our daily decision making is made up of routines, mental habits, mental shortcuts or just plain emotions. This is one of the foundational books on Scott Adam’s Influence Reading List and I highly recommend it. Cialdini lists five different ways people are persuaded that act on those emotions or mental shortcuts we take to make decisions when we are short on time to analyze it, or are just plain lazy and want to make a snap judgement.

Five Persuasion Tactics for your Tool Box

Use Reciprocation

The business lunch is a great example of using reciprocation. When somebody does something for us, we naturally feel a need to reciprocate and return the favor. A movie example is the “Godfather” where a person asks the Don for something, and Don Corleone says that, “someday, I will call on you for a favor”. In sales, it’s the concession a salesman makes to you on the price of the car, but you don’t know that he is going to make it up by asking you for a small reciprocation on an extended warranty, or under body rust proofing. Things that seem small to you, but are big money makers to the dealerships. The act of buying a girl a drink or dinner puts her in mind that she must reciprocate somehow. It’s the old “give something to get something”.

Once you see this, you will see it everywhere. Another version of this is the “contrast ask”. Trump writes about this in his book “The Art of the Deal” where he says that your “ask” always needs to be bigger than your “want”. Mutual concession is the goal. It’s called the “rejection then retreat” method. Ask “larger, then smaller”. If the customer rejects the bigger purchase, get a commitment to a smaller purchase, because once they have made even a small commitment (see the next step), you have hooked the fish. Now it’s just a matter of reeling them in. Working down promotes compromise and compliance. Mutual concession is important in this kind of procedure because once the target feels like he is getting something in the way of concessions, he becomes far more compliant in terms of completing the sale. Remember, now in all of this that there isn’t much “logic” going on. It’s all the perception of the person you are trying to persuade to take an action.

Commitment and Consistency

Human nature is such that we all have a desire to appear to be consistent with what we have already done or said. This is another way that logic and reason is short circuited. If you can get someone to make a public verbal commitment then they will feel compelled to be consistent and will more likely than not follow through with an action. Again the car salesman uses this all the time. He low balls you by giving you a great deal on your trade in for a new car, and you have verbally committed to the deal, but then his sales manager comes back and says the bank won’t let them do the deal. They bank wants more money. Because you have an internal need to be consistent with what you said, you choke up some more cash.

Initiation rites used in various groups like fraternities, the military and clubs also bring about commitment and consistency to work within the group. The more active, public and effortful those commitments are, the more likely that person joining will comply with the group’s requests. You see this in group dynamics, where some speaker tries to get people to raise their hands to various questions. He is laying the groundwork to gain compliance on something or some idea he is selling. Again logic is short circuited. Even doing things like the wave at the ball game gains further emotional commitment from the fans.

Social Proof

Here is another great mental short circuit. You and I tend to see an action as more appropriate when others around us are doing the same thing. Kids will say, “but mom, everyone else is doing it”. This is nothing more than “group think”. The greater the number of people who find any idea correct, the more the idea will be correct, even if the evidence says otherwise. Social proof is a powerful persuasion tool.

Here are some examples of social proof in action. Testimonials real or fake give people the impression that this is a product or idea they should get because all these other people like it. We may or may not do the research to compare one product against another, but testimonials act as a mental shortcut to doing that research. The idea is that if most people are buying it, then it must be ok. Another is an old pickup trick of getting two attractive women to walk into a bar with their arms around you. Other girls in the bar see that and assume you must have something going on. That’s social proof. Saying that my blog is the fastest growing blog on the Internet doesn’t even require proof to directly convince some people that they should visit it.

It sounds shady doesn’t it? These five persuasion tactics aren’t any more evil than a knife or a gun. It’s the person and the motive in how they are used. These persuasion tactics can be used for good or for bad. Plus, understanding them, you can protect yourself from being a victim of bad choices.


Like it or not, we make judgements on trusting a person based on physical attractiveness. Con men know this and pay particular attention to their appearance. On the flip side you may meet a guy who looks like he is a dumpster diver. He is the most loyal person you could ever meet, but your first impression is to back away from him. Those are the extremes, but what works well is that we tend to like people who are similar to ourselves. You can use that by a tactic of reflecting back to the person you are trying to persuade by copying their body language, style of speech, mood, etc. This is called “Mirror Matching”.

Simply telling people you like them is powerful. You see Trump doing this all the time in speeches saying “I love you”. Familiar names in the voting booth do better than unfamiliar names. Once one politician even changed his name to Brown. Another version of this is good cop, bad cop. People tend to not like the bearer of bad news even when that person didn’t cause it. The Debbie Downer character on SNL is a great comedic example of this. Good cop, bad cop is an intentional act to get you to like and trust the good cop, just so that they can get a confession. This tactic is also used in car sales with the sales manager being the “bad cop” with the sole aim to get you to think that your personal sales agent is on your side working for you. The “Association Principle” fits into the category of persuasion as well. If you can associate yourself or your product in with a popular cultural rage, then you increase your likeability. An example of this is celebrity endorsements, name dropping, sports fans, groupies, etc.

Meals of any kind also lead to likeability, though they also work on reciprocity. Just be sure to make the pitch after or during the meal and never before it. We always root for our own, sex, culture, locale. Take advantage of that. We are know by our associates so associate with winners and avoid loser.


This is an interesting persuasion tactic. Studies have shown that perceptions of height were affected by the title assigned to the person in question. The same guy in different groups was introduced with increasingly higher titles. Each group was surveyed to estimate the height of the guy, and the perceived height increased in each group as the title became more impressive. Over all the range was over two inches. Con men often use lifts even if they are already tall. Many CEOs tend to be taller than average.

Advertisements are always using people dressed as doctors to sell some pill or cream. Any use of titles, clothes and trappings of authority can increase your persuasion.


Cialdini had the following to say about scarcity. The idea of potential loss plays a large role in human decision making. In fact, people seem to me more motivated by the thought of losing something than by the thought of gaining something of equal value.

“Limited number” tactic where item is in short supply. Or the similar “deadline” tactic.

One example is “only the floor model is left” where the customer is really interested in buying the floor model, and the salesman says it is the last one and not for sale, but he would be happy to make one last look in the back, and then asks “If I can get this for you at this price, you’ll take it?” (using Scarcity and Commitment and Consistency).

Don’t say “there is plenty in stock” this may make the thing less desirable in the buyer’s eyes.

The scarcity principle trades on our weakness for shortcuts. The weakness is, as before, an enlightened one. In this case, because we know that the things that are difficult to possess are typically better than those that are easy to possess, we can often use an item’s availability to help us quickly and correctly gauges it’s value.

Same thing as losing opportunities. Whenever free choice is limited or threatened, the need to retain our freedoms makes us desire them (as well as the goods and services associated with them ) significantly more than previously. The Romeo and Juliet example, though it worked to a bad outcome.

The Beef Example

Three experiments:

  1. The standard sales pitch by an imported beef company where the customer was asked for orders.
  2. Standard sales pitch plus information that the supply of imported beef was likely to be scarce in the coming months.
  3. Standard sales pitch and the information about a scarce supply of beef, too: however, they also learned that the scarce-supply news was not generally available information – it had come, they were told, from certain exclusive contacts that the company had.

Results: experiment two double sales over experiment one, and experiment three was six times the sale of experiment one.

There is something almost physical about the desire to have a contested item. See shoppers at a close out sale, or buyers at an auction. “Great deals” on loss leaders are the chum for markets to get people into a buying frenzy to purchase other more profitable items.

Cialdini’s brother would buy and sell used cars to pay his way through college. His one tactic was to tell people he could only meet by appointment. Then he would schedule all callers to come at the same time. People showing up all at once created a scarcity mindset. He would tell the others, so and so was hear first so it’s only fair that he get first shot. This puts pressure on number one, it also triggers reciprocity. If he bails, number two would usually jump immediately on the deal and pay more because number three was waiting right behind him.

This is one of the underlying reasons you should specifically adopt an “Abundance Mindset”. It keeps you from settling for less, or making rushed decisions on anything from buying a car to having a long term relationship with a girl.

Go practice one or more of these all this week and tell me how it goes in the comments below.


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