How to Persuade People

Six Methods:The BasicsYour SkillsThe IncentiveStrategiesAs A SalesmanSample Persuasive Letters

Convincing people that your way is the best way is often very difficult -- especially when you're not quite sure why they're saying no. Turn the tables on your conversation and convince people of your point of view. The trick is to get them wondering why they're saying no -- and with the right tactics, you can do it.

Method 1
The Basics

  1. Image titled 13110 2
    Understand how timing is everything. Knowing how to persuade people isn't just in words and body language -- it's also in knowing the right time to talk to them. If you approach people when they are more relaxed and open to discussion, you will most likely achieve faster, better results.
    • People are most persuadable immediately after thanking someone -- they feel indebted. What's more, they are at their most persuasive after being thanked -- they feel entitled. If someone thanks you, it's the perfect time to ask for a favor. Sort of a what-goes-around-comes-around thing. You scratched their back, now it's high time they scratch yours.[1]
  2. Image titled 13110 3
    Get to know them. A large part of whether or not persuasion is effective is based on the general rapport between you and your client/son/friend/employee. If you don't know the person well, it's imperative to start building this rapport immediately -- find common ground as soon as possible. Humans, in general, feel safer around (and thus are more fond of) people that are similar to them. So find parallels and make them known.
    • First talk about what interests them. One of the best ways to get people to open up is to talk about what they're passionate about. Ask intelligent, thoughtful questions about what interests them -- and don't forget to mention why those interests interest you! Seeing that you're a kindred spirit will tell that person it's okay to be receptive and open to you.
      • Is that a picture of them skydiving on their desk? Crazy! You've just been looking into taking your first dive -- but should you do it from 10,000 or 18,000 feet? What's their seasoned opinion?
  3. Image titled 13110 4
    Speak in the affirmative. If you say to your son or daughter, "Don't mess up your room," when what you mean to say is, "Tidy your room," you'll get nowhere. "Don't hesitate to contact me," is not the same as, "Call me on Thursday!" Whoever you're talking to won't know what you mean and therefore won't be able to give you what you want.
    • There is something to be said for clarity. If you're obfuscating, the person may want to agree with you, but doesn't necessarily know what you're looking for. Speaking in the affirmative will help you maintain directness and keep your intentions clear.
  4. Image titled 13110 5
    Lean on ethos, pathos, and logos. You know how in college you went through that Lit course that taught you about Aristotle's appeals? No? Well, here's your brush up. The guy was smart -- and these appeals are so human they remain true to this day.
    • Ethos -- think credibility. We tend to believe people whom we respect. Why do you think spokesmen exist? For this exact appeal. Here's an example: Hanes. Good underwear, respectable company. Is that enough for you to buy their product? Well, maybe. Wait, Michael Jordan has been sporting Hanes for over two decades?[2] Sold!
    • Pathos -- relies on your emotions. Everyone knows that SPCA commercial with Sarah McLachlan and the sad music and the sad puppies. That commercial is the worst. Why? Because you watch it, you get sad, and you feel compelled to help the puppies. Pathos at its finest.
    • Logos -- that's the root of the word "logic." This is perhaps the most honest of the persuasion methods. You simply state why the person you're talking to should agree with you. That's why statistics are used so prevalently. If you were told, "On average, adults who smoke cigarettes die 14 years earlier than nonsmokers," (which is true, by the way[3]), and you believed you wanted to live a long, healthy life, logic would dictate that you stop. Boom. Persuasion.
  5. Image titled 13110 1
    Generate a need. This is rule #1 when it comes to persuasion. After all, if there's no need for what you're trying to sell/get/do, it won't happen. You don't need to be the next Bill Gates (though he definitely created a need) -- all you have to do is look at Maslow's Hierarchy. Think about different realms of need -- whether it's physiological, safety and security, love and belongingness, self-esteem or self-actualization needs, you can certainly find an area that is missing something, something only you can improve.[4]
    • Create scarcity. Apart from what we humans need to survive, almost everything has value on a relative scale. Sometimes (maybe most of the time), we want things because other people want (or have) these things. If you want somebody to want what you have (or are or do or if they just want you), you have to make that object scarce, even if that object is yourself. Supply in demand, after all.[5]
    • Create urgency. In order to get people to act in the moment, you have to be able to invoke a sense of urgency. If they’re not motivated enough to want whatever you have right now, it’s unlikely they’ll change their minds in the future. You must persuade people in the present; it's all that matters.[5]

Method 2
Your Skills

  1. Image titled 13110 6
    Talk fast. Yep. That's right -- people are more persuaded by a fast, confident talker than accuracy. Sort of makes sense -- the faster you talk, the less time your listener has to process what you've said and question it. That and you create the feeling that you truly grasp the subject by running through the facts at warp speed, confident of them all.
    • In October of 1976, a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology analyzed talking speed and attitude. The researchers spoke to the participants, trying to convince them that caffeine was bad for them. When they spoke at a turbo-charged pace of 195 words per minute, the participants were more persuaded; those given the lecture at 102 words per minute where less convinced. It was deemed that at higher rates of speech (195 words per minute is about the fastest that people speak in normal conversation), the message was viewed as more credible -- and therefore more persuasive. Talking fast seems to indicate confidence, intelligence, objectivity and superior knowledge. Speech at 100 words per minute, the minimum of normal conversation, was associated with the negative side of the coin.[6]
  2. Image titled 13110 7
    Be cocky. Who would have thought that being cocky was such a good thing (in the right moments)? In fact, recent research has said that humans prefer cockiness to expertise. Ever wondered why seemingly clueless politicians and big wigs get away with everything? Why Sarah Palin still has a gig on Fox News? It's a consequence of the way human psychology works. A consequence, indeed.
    • Research done at Carnegie Mellon University has shown that humans prefer advice from confident sources -- even if we know the source has a not-so-stellar track record. If someone is aware of this (subconsciously or otherwise), it can drive them to exaggerate how confident they are on the topic.[7]
  3. Image titled 13110 8
    Master the body language. If you seem unapproachable, closed off, and unwilling to compromise, people won't want to listen to a word you have to say. Even if you're saying all the right things, they're picking up the words from your body. Watch your positioning just as much as you watch your mouth.
    • Stay open. Keep your arms unfolded and your body pointing towards the other person. Maintain good eye contact, smile, and make it a point not to fidget.
    • Mirror the other. Once more, humans like those they perceive to be like them -- by mirroring them, you are, literally, in their same position. If they're leaning on an elbow, lean on the mirroring elbow. If they lean back, lean back. Don't do this so consciously it draws attention to it -- in fact, if you're feeling a rapport, you should do this almost automatically.
  4. Image titled 13110 9
    Stay consistent. Imagine a quintessential politician standing in his suit at a podium. A reporter throws him a question about how his support mainly comes from those 50 and older. In response, he shakes his fist, points, and aggressively says, "I feel for the younger generation." What's wrong about this picture?
    • What's wrong is everything. His entire image -- his body, his movements -- go against what he says. He has the appropriate, soft response, but his body language is hard, uncomfortable, and fierce. As a result, he's not believable. In order to be persuasive, your message and your body language have to match up. Otherwise, you straight up look like a liar.
  5. Image titled 13110 10
    Be persistent. Alright, so don't badger a person to death when they keep telling you no, but don't let it dissuade you from asking the next person. You won't be persuasive with everyone, especially before you get over the learning curve. Persistence will pay off in the long run.
    • The most persuasive person is the one who is willing to keep asking for what they want, even when they keep getting turned down. No world leader would have gotten anything accomplished if he would've given up at his first rejection. Abraham Lincoln, one of the most revered presidents in history) lost his mother, three sons, a sister, his girlfriend, failed in business and lost eight separate elections before he was elected president of the United States.[5]

Method 3
The Incentive

  1. Image titled 13110 11
    Go for an economic incentive. You want something from someone, we got that much down. Now, what can you give them? What do you know is something they could want? The first answer: money.
    • Let's say you are running a blog or paper and you want an author to do an interview. Instead of saying, "Hey! I like your work!" what would be more effective? Here's an example: "Dear John, I noticed you have a book coming out in a few weeks, and I believe my readers, over at my blog, would eat it up. Would you be interested in doing a 20 minute interview, and I would feature it to all of my readers? We’ll also be able to end with a pitch for your book."[8] Now John knows that if he does this article, he'll reach a wider audience, selling more of his work, and making more money.
  2. Image titled 13110 12
    Opt for the social incentive. Alright, alright, not everyone is concerned with money. If that's not an option, go the social route. Most people are concerned with their overall image. If you know a friend of theirs, even better
    • Here's the same topic, only using a social incentive: "Dear John, I recently read that piece of research you published, and I couldn’t help but wonder “Why doesn’t EVERYONE know about this?” I was wondering, would you be interested in doing a quick 20 minute interview where we talk about this piece of research? In the past I’ve featured research from Max, someone I know you’ve worked with in the past, and I believe your research will be a big hit on my blog."[8] Now, John knows Max is in the mix (alluding to ethos) and that this person feels passionately about his work. Socially, John has no reason not to do this and plenty of reason to.
  3. Image titled 13110 13
    Use the moral route. Arguably this method is the weakest, but it may be more effective with some people. If you reckon someone wouldn't be moved by money or social image, give this one a go.
    • "Dear John, I recently read that piece of research you published, and I couldn’t help but wonder “Why doesn’t EVERYONE know about this?” As a matter of fact, this is one of the reasons why I launched my podcast Social Triggers. My big goal is to bring the insights from academic papers to the general public. I was wondering, would you be interested in doing a quick 20 minute interview? We can highlight your research to all of my listeners, and hopefully we can both make the world a little bit smarter."[8] That last line ignores the money and the ego and goes straight for the moral high road.

Method 4

  1. Image titled 13110 14
    Utilize the beauty of guilt and reciprocity. Have you ever had a friend that says, "First round on me!" and your immediate thought is, "I got the second then!"? That's because we're conditioned to return favors; it's only fair. So when you do someone a "good deed," think of it as an investment in your future. People will want to give back.[1]
    • If you're skeptical, there are people using this technique around you all the time. ALL THE TIME. Those pesky women in those kiosks at the mall handing out lotion? Reciprocity. The mint on your tab at the end of dinner?[9] Reciprocity. The free 1800 Tequila shot glass you got at the bar? Reciprocity. It's everywhere. Businesses the world over employ it.
  2. Image titled 13110 15
    Harness the power of consensus. It's human nature to want to be cool and to "fit in." When you let the other know that other people do it too (hopefully a group or person they respect), it reassures them that what you're suggesting is right and lets our brains off the hook of analyzing something for whether it's good or not. Having a "herd mentality" lets us be mentally lazy. It also keeps us from being left behind.
    • An example of the success of this method is the use of information cards in hotel bathrooms. In one study, the number of customers who reused their towels increased by 33% when information cards in hotel rooms read "75% of customers who stay in this hotel reuse their towels," according to research conducted at Influence at Work in Tempe, Ariz.[9]
      • It gets more intense. If you've ever taken a Psych 101 class, you've heard of this phenomenon. Back in the 50s, Solomon Asch conducted a whole bunch of conformity studies. He put a subject in a group of confederates who were all told to say the wrong answer (in this instance, that a visibly shorter line was longer than a visibly longer line (something a 3 year old could do). As a result, a shocking 75% of participants said the shorter line was longer and completely compromised what they actually believed, just to fit in with the norm. Crazy, huh?
  3. Image titled 13110 16
    Ask for a lot. If you're a parent, you've seen this one in action. A child says, "Mommy, mommy! Let's go the beach!" Mom says no, feels a bit guilty, but doesn't have the option to change her mind. But then, when the child says, "Okay, fine. Let's go to the pool, then?" mom wants to say yes and does.
    • So ask for what you actually want second. People feel a sense of guilt when they refuse a request, regardless of what it is generally. If the second request (i.e., the real request) is something they have no reason not to comply with, then they'll grab the opportunity. The second request gives them freedom from guilt, like an escape route. They'll feel relieved, better about themselves, and you get what you want.[1]If you want a donation of $10, ask for $25. If you want a project done in a month, first ask for it in 2 weeks.
  4. Image titled 13110 17
    Use "we. Studies have shown that the reassurance of "we" is more productive in persuading people than other, less positive, approaches (namely the threatening approach (If you don’t do this, I will) and the rational approach (You should do this for the following reasons). The use of "we" conveys a sense of camaraderie, commonality and understanding.
    • Remember how we said earlier that it was important to establish rapport so the listener feels similar to you and likes you? And then how we said to mirror your body language so the listener feels similar to you and likes you? Well, now you should use "we" the listener feels similar and likes you. Bet you didn't see that one coming.
  5. Image titled 13110 18
    Start things off. You know how sometimes a team can't really seem to get going until someone "gets the ball rolling?" Well, you need to be that person. If you give the first bit, your listener will be more inclined to finish off.
    • People are more likely to be willing to finish a task as opposed to doing the whole thing. Next time the laundry needs done, try throwing the clothes in the washer, then asking if your significant other would pick up your slack.[1] It's so easy they can't justify saying no.
  6. Image titled 13110 19
    Get them saying yes. People want to be consistent with themselves. If you get them saying "yes" (in one way or another), they'll want to stick to it. If they've admitted they'd like to address a certain problem or are a certain way and you offer a solution, they'll feel obligated to see it out. Whatever it is, get them agreeing.
    • In a research study by Jing Xu and Robert Wyer, participants showed that they were more receptive to anything if first shown something they agree with. In one of the sessions, participants listened to either a speech by John McCain or Barack Obama and then watched an ad for Toyota. Republicans were more swayed by the ad after watching John McCain, and Democrats? You guessed it -- were more pro-Toyota after watching Barack Obama. So if you're trying to sell something, get your customers agreeing with you first – even if what you talk about has nothing to do with what you’re selling.[10]
  7. Image titled 13110 20
    Be balanced. Despite how it may seem sometimes, people do have independent thought and they're not all idiots. If you don’t mention all sides of the argument, people will be less likely to believe or agree with you.[11] If weaknesses are staring you in the face, address them yourself -- especially before someone else does.
    • Over the years many studies have been done comparing one-sided and two-sided arguments and their efficacy and persuasiveness in different contexts. Daniel O’Keefe at the University of Illinois went through the results of 107 different studies (50 years, 20,111 participants) and developed a sort of meta-analysis. He concluded that two-sided arguments are more persuasive than their one-sided equivalents across the board -- with different types of persuasive messages and with varied audiences.[11]
  8. Image titled 13110 21
    Use covert anchors. Ever heard of Pavlov's dog? No, not the 70s rock band from St. Louis.[12] The experiment on classical conditioning. This is just like that. You do something that subconsciously evokes a response on the other's part -- and they don't even know it. But know that this takes time and a whole lot of diligence.
    • If every time your friend mentioned Pepsi you groaned, that would be an example of classical conditioning. Eventually, when you groan, your friend thinks of Pepsi (maybe you want them to drink more Coke?). A more useful example would be if your boss used the same phrases for praise with everyone. When you hear him congratulating someone else, it reminds you of the time he said it to you -- and you work just a little bit harder with the surge of pride lifting your mood.
  9. Image titled 13110 22
    Up your expectations. If you're in a position of power, this method is even better -- and an absolute must. Make it known that you have full confidence in the positive attributes of your underlings (employees, children, etc.) and they'll be more apt to comply.
    • If you tell your child he is smart and that you know he'll get good grades, he won't want to disappoint you (if he can avoid it). Letting him know you're confident in him will make it easier for him to be confident in himself.
    • If you're the boss of a company, be a source of positivity for your employees. If you give one a particularly difficult project, let her know that you're giving it to her because you know she can do it. She's exhibited X, X, and X qualities that prove it. With the boost, her work will be even better.
  10. Image titled 13110 23
    Frame with a loss. If you can give someone something, great. But if you can prevent something from being taken away, you're in. You can help them avoid a stressor in their lives -- why would they say no?
    • There was a study in which a group of executives had to make a decision on a proposal involving loss and gain. The differences were huge: Twice as many of the executives said yes to the proposal if the company was predicted to lose $500,000 if the proposal wasn't accepted, compared to the project leading to a profit of $500,000. Could you be more persuasive just by outlining the costs and skimming over the benefits? Maybe.[9]
    • This works just as well in the home. Can't pry the husband away from the television for a nice night out? Easy. Rather than packing for your guilt trip and nagging him about needing "quality time," remind him that this is the last night before the kids get back. He'll be more persuaded knowing he may be missing out on something.[1]
      • This one should be taken with a grain of salt. There is opposing research that suggests that people don't like to be reminded of negative things, at least personally. When it hits too close to home, they freak out at the negative implications. They would rather have "attractive skin" than "avoid skin cancer," for example.[13] So keep in mind what you're asking for before you frame it one way or another.

Method 5
As A Salesman

  1. Image titled 13110 24
    Maintain eye contact and smile. Be polite, cheerful, and charismatic. A good attitude will help you more than you think. People will want to hear what you have to say -- after all, it's getting in the door that's the hardest part.
    • You don't want them thinking that you want to force your point of view on them. Be suave and confident -- they'll be more likely to believe every word.
      Image titled Image 882
  2. Image titled 13110 25
    Know your product. Show them all the benefits of your idea. Not for you, though! Tell them how it will benefit them. That always gets their attention.
    • Be honest. If you have a product or idea that just isn't necessary for them, they'll know. It'll get awkward and they'll stop believing even the words that may have truth to them. Address both sides of the situation to assure them that you're rational, logical, and have their best interests at heart.
  3. Image titled 13110 26
    Prepare for any contradictions. And be ready for any that you may not have thought of! If you've practiced your pitch and have sat down to give it a thorough evaluation, this shouldn't be a problem.
    • People will be looking for something to nay-say if it seems like you get the greater gain from the transaction. Minimize this. The listener should be the one who benefits -- not you.
  4. Image titled 13110 27
    Don't be afraid to agree with the person. Negotiation is a huge part of persuasion. Just because you had to negotiate doesn't mean you didn't win in the end. In fact, tons of research has pointed to the simple word "yeah" having persuasive powers.
    • While "yeah" may seem like an odd candidate for a persuasive word, it seems to have power because it makes you seem agreeable and amicable and that the other person is part of the request. Framing what you're looking for as if it were an agreement, rather than a favor, may lead the other person to "helping out."[14]
  5. Image titled 13110 28
    Use indirect communication with leaders. If you're talking to your boss or some other person in a position of power, you may want to avoid being too direct. The same goes for if your proposal is rather ambitious. With leaders, you want to guide their thoughts, allowing them to think they came up with it themselves. They need to maintain their sense of power to feel contented. Play the game and feed them your good ideas gently.
    • Start of by making your boss feel a little less confident. Talk about something he/she doesn't know much about -- if possible, talk outside of his office, where it is neutral territory. After your pitch, remind him who’s the boss (he is!) -- thus making him feel powerful once more)-- so he can do something about your request.[11]
  6. Image titled 13110 29
    Detach and stay calm in conflict. Getting wrapped up in emotions never makes anyone more effective at persuasion. In situations of emotion or conflict, staying calm, detached and unemotional will always give you the most leverage. If someone else is losing it, they'll turn to you for a sense of stability. After all, you're in control of your emotions. They'll trust you in those moments to lead them.
    • Use anger purposefully. Conflict makes most people uncomfortable. If you're willing to "go there," making the situation tense, that is, it's like the other will back down. Don't do this often, however, and definitely don't do it in the heat of the moment or when you've lost a grip on your emotions. Only use this tactic skillfully and purposefully.[5]
  7. Image titled 13110 30
    Be confident. It cannot be stressed enough: Certainty is compelling, intoxicating and attractive like no other quality is. The guy in the room who's spouting off a mile a minute with a smile on his face reeking of confidence is the one persuading everyone over to his team. If you really believe in what you do, others will see that and respond. They'll want to be just as confident as you are.[9]
    • If you're not, it is seriously in your interest to fake it. If you walk into a 5-star restaurant, no one has to know you're in a rented suit. As long as you don't walk in in jeans and a t-shirt, no one asks questions. When you deliver your pitch, think along those same lines.

Sample Persuasive Letters

Sample Persuasive Letter to Employer

Sample Persuasive Letter to Government

Sample Persuasive Letter to Professor


  • It helps if you are friendly, sociable, and have a sense of humor; if you are somebody that people enjoy being with, you will wield more influence over them.
  • At times, it helps to let your audience know that something is really, really, really important to you, and other times it does not; use discretion.
  • Watch your mouth. Everything you say ought to be optimistic, encouraging, and flattering; pessimism and criticism are a turn-off. For example, a politician who gives speeches about "hope" is likely to win an election; talking about "bitterness" will not work.
  • Whenever you start an argument, agree with the person, and state all the goods about his point. For example, if you want to sell your trucks to specific furniture store, and the manager says in your face, "No, I'm not going to buy your truck! I like what-ever-brand much more because of this and that". You must accord, replying something like, "Of course, what-ever-brand trucks are good, in fact, I have heard that they have over 30 years of great reputation". Trust me, he will not be so competitive after that! From here, you may bring your point about your trucks like, "... However didn't you know that if your trucks fails to start up in the freezing cold, the company won't help you? And you'll have to call the towing and repair the trucks by yourself?" This will help him consider your opinion.
  • Try not to negotiate with somebody when you are tired, in a hurry, distracted, or just "out of it"; you will probably make concessions that you will regret later.


  • Don't give up suddenly - It makes them think that they've won, and it'll make it harder to persuade them in the future.
  • Lies and exaggerations are never, ever good choices from a moral as well as a utilitarian perspective. Your audience is not stupid, and if you think you can deceive them without getting caught, you deserve whatever you get.
  • Don't preach too much or they will just completely close their options to the point where you've lost your influence on them.
  • Do not be critical or confrontational to your target audience. This can feel difficult at times, but you will never win your objective with this method. In fact, if you are even slightly irritable or frustrated, they will pick up on it and become immediately defensive, so it is best to wait until later. Much later.

Article Info

Categories: Leadership and Mentoring