How to Win People Over: Strategies for Effective Persuasion

Legendary management thinker, Peter Drucker, is quoted as saying “Communication takes place in the mind of the listener, not the speaker.” In other words, the important thing is what the listener perceives, not what you are trying to say. Your listener processes your carefully wrought message through their filters to form a message from what they thought they heard.

For instance, what you tried to say may be different from what you actually said, which may in turn be different from what you thought you said.

Then what you actually said needs to get past barriers to reach the other person. The barriers may be distractions, noise, interruptions, disruptions, intrusions or diversions –either internally as thoughts or externally as physical things.

What the receiver hears may be different from what you thought you said

And what the receiver of a message may have thought they heard may be influenced by factors such as their values, culture, environment, knowledge, attitudes, opinions, experiences, occupation, sex, and interests.

Finally, the receiver takes away the message from what they thought they heard. Given all this, communication is definitely not a simple task!

Drucker could easily have been thinking of non-verbal communication when he made his observation – we can easily forget how we are perceived, especially how our body language is perceived by others.

People aren’t idiots. They like to think they are rational, and when they aren’t being rational, there is an emotional reason for their attitudes. When a person resists your message, try to put yourself in their shoes. Try to understand why they have resisted your point.

3 types of resistance

  1. Misunderstanding. Resistance may simply stem from a misunderstanding of your message and intent. If this is a possibility, ask them questions to clarify their understanding. This may solve the problem. However, if they still refuse to agree with your point of view, it is likely their emotions are behind their attitude.
  2. Fear. Fear is likely to be the cause of negative emotions at this level. People fear the consequences of your idea. For instance, if you are talking about change, they may fear for their jobs or for the jobs of others. In this case, try to explore the basis of the fear. Ask them to discuss their reasons for their negative attitude, and keep probing. Keep asking “Why” until you take them to a deeper level in which the real reasons for their resistance become apparent.
  3. “I don’t like you.” But there may be a third reason for resistance. The other person may object to you or what you represent: “I don’t like you.” This is also emotional. If you believe this third reason is why they aren’t cooperating, listen closely to what they say.

Find out what you have in common

Before you can be persuasive, you need to create credibility with the people you are dealing with – give them the opportunity to trust you – and lead them to like you. Find out as much about them as you can – their professional roles, the formative things in their careers and their demographics, and what has led them to take a particular stance on the issue in question.

Good sales people do this. They take an interest in the person they are dealing with so that person likes them.

Align your verbal and non-verbal communication

Another tip is to present your information in consistent ways so that your non-verbal communication is aligned with your words. Leaders are positive, so don’t get involved with negative gossip and speculation. Instead, think of positive, but not banal, things to say. As above, take an interest in the people you are dealing with and follow up what they say with questions to explore their views further. Make your body language and movements open and inclusive. Use open gestures of your arms and offer reasonable eye contact to each person.

Be up front about opposing information

A final suggestion is to present the opposing information along with your side of the argument when you know the subject is debatable. This is the tactic used by political lobbyists. When they present a case to a politician, a good lobbyist will always include the argument of opponents so the politician is aware of both sides of the argument and isn’t caught by surprise when the opposing view is later pushed. When you raise the opposing side of the case first, it reduces the opportunity to resist your case. And seek their suggestions. When you are inclusive and seek their help in developing the case, they are much more likely to at least meet you halfway, if not further.

If you take the trouble to follow up on these suggestions you are likely to develop more positive long-term relationships with others and are more likely to win their support when previously they may have resisted your side of the argument. And it is likely their views have merit – you will probably compromise to some extent to reach a mutually satisfactory result.

Boost your career with actionable insights delivered monthly to your inbox

Join 5000 subscribers around the world and subscribe to the free monthly Cutting Edge Insights newsletter! 

By signing up, you will receive expert advice, tips, information and news on practical business communication and management from award-winning author, Kim J. Harrison. 

Simply fill out the form below and check your inbox for a confirmation email.

*All fields shown below are required


Monthly updates for you!

Get awesome actionable insights delivered monthly to your inbox.

It’s so easy to join our Cutting Edge Connections community of readers. Just fill in the details below to receive our regular free updates.

"*" indicates required fields