Mastering the Art of Persuasion

Why are so many new ideas a tough sell? For starters, people have become savvier, more skeptical, and even more cynical. We’ve all become jaded about advertising, suspicious of political claims, and less trusting of those who bring us a message—even one that may be in our best interest.
Second, and more important, many people just aren’t skilled at the art of persuasion. No matter how brilliant your idea is, it will go nowhere unless you get others to go along with it. 

Learning to be more persuasive is easier than it used to be because we have e-mail, voice mail, cell phones, satellites, skywriting, and a vast array of other communication tools. But it’s also more difficult in that the deluge of messages and ill-equipped messengers cheapens them all. So it’s more crucial than ever to hone the skills that heighten our power of persuasion. Here are three strategies to make yourself more persuasive:

1. Shift your focus to others. There’s a tale of a young lady who was taken to dinner one evening by William Gladstone and then the following evening by Benjamin Disraeli, both eminent British statesmen in the late 19th century. “When I left the dining room after sitting next to Mr. Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in England,” she said. “But after sitting next to Mr. Disraeli, I thought I was the cleverest woman in England.” If you practice attentiveness to others, you’ll find it does wonders for both of you.

2. Empower people. Send the message that you appreciate the abilities of others. For example, at Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing (3M), the $15-billion-a-year firm famed for its innovation, leaders still follow the maxims of William McKnight, its leader for half a century: “Listen to anybody with an idea.” “Encourage experimental doodling.” “If you put fences around people, you get sheep; give people the room they need.”

3. Hone your sense of humor. While being wheeled into the operating room after getting shot, the ever-persuasive President Ronald Reagan got a chuckle when he wisecracked, “I hope the doctor is a Republican.” We may not all be so cool in a crisis, but we can all profit by not taking ourselves too seriously.

Dr. Tony Alessandra has written 20 books; his most recent is Switched On Selling, co-authored with Dr. Jerry Teplitz. Contact him at