Why are self-confident, charismatic leaders so often believed? Conversely, why are subject matter experts so often ignored? The secret is in the art and science of persuasion. My college friend, Kristi Hedges, has written two books on this topic: The Power of Presence and The Inspiration Code. Kristi and I spoke recently, and she said:

“Influence is the way that work in modern organizations gets done. No big idea, improvement, or new direction would ever happen without a person in front persuading others to change. The good news is that influence can be learned. The bad news is that not enough people understand how to persuade, and many great ideas languish. Communication skills aren’t a nice to have — they are a primary qualification for leadership”

Persuasion is no longer a soft skill – it’s a fundamental competency that can help you develop partnerships, sell products, build brands, inspire teams, attract investors, and even trigger movements. Some economists estimate that persuasion is responsible for generating ¼ or more of America’s national income.

Interestingly, Aristotle penned the first thought about this in his work, Rhetoric over 2000 years ago and Dale Carnegie’s classic How to Win Friends and Influence People is nearly 80 years old.  Many of the same principles from Aristotle and Carnegie still apply but many of us are just not using them consistently to our advantage.

If you look at success stories – even your own – you tend to see patterns. The same principles come up again and again. Let’s identify those principles and learn how to put them into practice for your next opportunity to be persuasive.

Persuasion, at its root, is about changing people’s minds about something. So, the first step toward being persuasive is understanding the barriers to change. We need to understand the psychology that’s preventing change and then learn how to mitigate it. As Kristi pointed out, persuasion, communication, and presence work together because when you are fully present with others, it’s easier to overcome their barriers to change.

This list of barriers has been researched across industries and over time and is critical to understand. After each barrier, you’ll see an antidote. This work is based on the research of Jonah Berger, professor at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and author of The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind.

Barriers To Change and How to Break Through:

1. Reactivity – When presented with a new idea that requires change, people will often push back against change.

Antidote: Understanding – The way to break through is to understand the change from their perspective. It’s not enough to tell them what you want, you have to acknowledge their successes and let them see that you are considering their point of view.

2. Attachment – We all tend to have an attachment to the status quo; old things feel safe and comfortable. You know the saying “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.”

Antidote: Questioning – Ask open-ended questions – the kind that requires more than a yes or no response – and then listen intently. Once you have a better understanding of why they’re attached, you can highlight the space between where they are and where they want to be and propose your solution.

3. Cost/Benefit Gap – There are costs to change that can include time and effort or even real financial costs. Remember, the costs related to change are definite and happen right away and the benefits are seen later and are still uncertain.

Antidote: Honesty – You must be transparent and proactive about these costs while being confident in the benefits. Acknowledge and discuss that all changes require some investment and give examples of some changes they’ve made – or other clients have made – that were worth the short-term risk.

4. Distance: We often try to persuade people to go too far or too fast in our direction.

Antidote: Adjustments – Start by asking for less – get them to move a little bit in your direction. It seems less far and less risky from their position. Ask for less then ask for more once you’ve had some wins together.

5. Uncertainty – Even once you’ve been convincing and they’re starting to see the benefits, it’s hard to imagine the future state you’re reaching for.

Antidote: Test Drive – Develop a way for them to try your solution on for size. Think of it like test driving a car – you can feel what it would be like to own that car. Can you offer a pilot program? A smaller contract? Fewer services? Think about creating movement, not getting the full win right away.

6. Evidence: They aren’t seeing how this has worked for others, or what benefits it has brought to other companies or individuals.

Antidote: Exposure: Who is using your products or services that look a bit like this client? Can you show the details of that deal without breaking confidences? Better yet, can you use the other client as a referral source? Let them do some of the persuading for you!

In the end, the point of persuasion is to have people care about the things we care about, to engage with us in a respectful way, to take action, and to feel that they are more successful and fulfilled as a result of our relationship. This builds better partners, better businesses, and better communities where everyone thrives.


How have you used persuasion in your life? I’d love to hear from you.