Being able to persuade people to come around to your point of view is a very valuable skill to have, and particularly so when you are starting and running your own business.
When you’re launching a new venture you might need to convince potential investors to fund your fledgling business, persuade suppliers to give you favourable terms, encourage great people to join you and entice new clients on board. To do all of these successfully, you will need to be able to influence others and their views.
So with this ability being so crucial in helping you to grow your business, how do you get people around to your point of view?
A proven persuasion technique
There’s one persuasion technique that has been consistently shown to work in almost any situation. It’s very practical, can be used by anyone and doesn’t involve a carrot or a stick. In the U.S. it’s known as the, ‘But You Are Free’ technique. In the UK we’d probably say, ‘It’s up to you’ or ‘You are free to choose’.
Why does it work so well? Because it tags onto the end of your request a phrase that reaffirms people’s freedom to choose. You’re not forcing them to do something, you’re simply asking them politely and then reminding them that they’ve got a choice.
None of us likes to be ‘persuaded’. By adding ‘it’s up to you’ you are indirectly affirming a person’s freedom to choose. In effect, you’re not threatening their right to say ‘no’.
Double your chances of getting a ‘yes’
Christopher Carpenter of Western Illinois University carried out research in this area involving some 22,000 people. What he discovered was that by simply adding the phrase ‘But you are free…’ it doubled the chances of people saying ‘yes’ to a request.
So where’s the proof? Well, people have been shown to donate more to good causes, agree more readily to take part in a survey, and give money to someone asking for a bus fare home, simply by adding that phrase. The exact words are not especially important. ‘Totally your choice’ works. As does ‘But obviously, don’t feel obliged’.
When most people would then actually feel more obliged.
The important thing is that the request is made face-to-face, otherwise the power of the technique diminishes. It sometimes works via email, but less so than when delivered in person. What this really underlines is that we don’t like to be hemmed in and have our choices reduced. That only serves to make us even more closed-minded.
People need to feel that they are making the decision
As with all effective methods of influence rather than persuasion, this whole technique is about ‘helping’ other people come to the decision you want through their own free will. They need to feel like it was their decision. And it means they are less likely to change their mind later. Respecting people’s autonomy has the happy side-effect of also making them more open to influence rather than persuasion.
If you are a small business with a handful of employees it’s important that everyone feels they are on board with key decisions and the more people feel they are choosing to do what you ask them to do the more likely they are to keep at the task.
Similarly in selling your product or service clients want to feel like they’re choosing you not being persuaded to do so.
Help people to convince themselves
And there’s another key way to get people around to your point of view:
Let them do the talking.
Persuading people around to your way of thinking is a difficult task, particularly if they’ve already made up their mind. Once we form a belief we tend to look for evidence to support the belief. And that, in turn becomes even more fixed in the mind.
This stubborn intransigence manifests itself in all manner of life. From the child who won’t eat up his greens to the bun fights in the House of Commons.
It’s the reason heart-felt petitions are filed straight into the bin and it’s also why football fans believe that playing at home in the second leg of a two-legged game provides a better chance of winning the tie. But it’s simply not true!
If you look at the results of European ties between 1994 and 2010 the chances of winning are exactly 50:50, whether you play at home first or second. Unless, of course, it goes to penalties when the stats show that the British teams are all but doomed!
Despite this fact, football fans continue to travel to the away leg of their two-legged European tie with the cheery thought that no matter what disaster befalls them, they can turn it around in the home tie. Why such confidence? Well, because like most long-held beliefs, once an opinion is formed, we look for as much evidence as possible to support it. Even if the stats don’t really add up.
People resent having their attitudes changed by others
You see, we resent having our attitudes adjusted by others, and so resist it at all costs. So it’s best if people change their own minds. It’s difficult to do it for them. Two researchers from Yale University, Janis and King asked students to give a talk on a subject to two of their fellow students to try to persuade them about something. Then they swapped things around so each student had a turn at giving the talk.
Janis and King discovered that the students were more convinced by the talk that they gave themselves than when they listened passively to the same argument put forward by their fellow students. This suggests that we really are persuaded more strongly when we make the argument ourselves, even if it isn’t in line with our own viewpoint. That’s probably why it’s a good idea to rehearse speeches and presentations out loud – not just to hear how it sounds but to make the final performance all the more convincing.
Pablo Briñol of Madrid University added more weight to the theory when he studied attitudes to smoking. He found that people were more likely to be put off smoking when they delivered an anti-smoking message themselves than when they passively received it. Simply saying it out loud was more convincing.
Ask them to see things from your point of view
So here’s how to get someone to come around to your way of thinking. Simply ask them to put aside their own attitude and beliefs for a moment and try to see it from your point of view. Then ask them to argue the case if they were – hypothetically – to hold your beliefs.
Use expressions like, ‘Just out of curiosity, if you were to argue the case what would you say?’ or ‘Hypothetically, how would you put forward to case if you were me and were trying to convince others of the argument?’
Before you know it, by generating their own arguments on the subject, they will be more inclined to your way of thinking and to changing their mind.
So to influence people’s behaviour rather than persuading them you need to let them think they have made the decision. That they were ‘free to choose,’ that they talked themselves into that way of thinking. And you do that by asking hypothetical questions such as, ‘If you were me what would you do?’ and, ‘If we were to pursue that course of action what would be the implications for us both?’
About the author
This guide has been written for ByteStart by Philip Hesketh is a multiple, award-winning professional speaker on the psychology of persuasion and influence. He helps people improve their relationships and increase their sales. Philip’s new book, Persuade – Using the seven drivers of motivation to master influence and persuasion (published by Capstone) is available now.
More help on successfully starting up
You can find lots more help on starting up on ByteStart, try some of our most popular guides for starters;
- Top 10 business planning tips for start-ups
- A Guide to ‘Alternative Finance’ – the new funding options for startups and small businesses
- 10 advantages of running your business as a limited company over being a sole trader
- The start-up survival guide – 6 practical tips to help you get through the early years
- The power of the ‘pilot’ – 3 good reasons why you should test your new business before launch
- How to choose the best online accounting software for your business
And these will help you to grow your business;
- The 3 issues you’ll need to overcome if you want your start-up to reach £1m turnover
- How you can build your business in 90 minutes a day
- How finding a great mentor could help you to grow, and your business to flourish
- Barriers to growth – how to identify them and how to overcome them
- 5 simple steps to overcoming procrastination
- Increasing your personal efficiency – how to get more done in less time