The Golden Key to Effective Persuasion

Wouldn’t life be so much easier if you got a ‘yes’ to everything you asked for?  You’d have the career of your dreams, money in the bank and the world at your feet. Except that your life probably isn’t like that. People have different agendas and priorities. They have other people and different ideas to consider. Given these difficulties, it is perhaps understandable why persuasion tactics at work and elsewhere can so often include pulling rank, bullying and other unsavoury approaches. However, although such tactics may get a ‘yes’, rarely do they get the kind of enthusiastic ‘yes’ that Jennifer Aniston was after when, in the film The Break Up, she pleads with her husband, “I want you to want to do the washing up”.  In fact, there is a highly effective way to persuade people; a golden key that opens doors to many ‘yeses’: focus on what benefits them.  To help you do this effectively, there are a few things to think through first.

Benefits are not features

This may sound obvious; however most people struggle to describe benefits either effectively or consistently. You’ll probably have come across objections such as:

  •  It will take too much time.
  •  It’s too expensive.
  •  It’s just not worth it.
  •  What does that have to do with me?
  •  I’m afraid it’s not a priority for the team right now.

The best way I know to define a ‘benefit’ is to contrast it with its ‘feature’.  A feature describes something; a benefit explains how someone’s future is improved by that feature:

“The meeting tomorrow is about decision-making” is a feature.

“The meeting tomorrow will help us make better and quicker decisions” is a benefit. It explains why we’ll be better off after attending the meeting.

Emphasizing features does not, somehow, turn them into benefits: “I was the only student in my year awarded the prestigious Florence Nightingale Award” is not a benefit. It’s an impressive feature.

Feature the benefits

If a meeting agenda pings into your inbox informing you that “The subject of today’s meeting is: ‘The Mervyn James guide to effective project management’. Please indicate your willingness to attend”, you would probably decline the invitation unless you happened to be very interested in either Mervyn James or project management.  Employers are more likely to be attracted to the CV of candidate A that describes the  benefits that A’s experience will bring to the company than the CV of the candidate B that  lists the variety of sectors  B has worked in. Of course, features are important – if any important features are missing from your CV, for example, you’re unlikely to be considered as a viable candidate for a role. The point is that features are like a gambler’s table stakes: they allow you to play the game but that doesn’t mean you will come out a winner. So, to sell your propositions, ideas or yourself, explain how they are of benefit to the other person.

The benefit of three

Great benefits are imbued with three characteristics:

  1.        They focus on the other person, and usually contain the magic word, ‘you’. So, using my inbox scenario again, if you were to receive a message with the words, “Important information to help you prepare for tomorrow’s CEO Q&A session”, you would probably be interested in finding out more.  Note that the message also contains the magic word ‘you’.
  2.        They are perceived as benefits by the other person. In other words, it’s not about you or what you think. It’s easy to make assumptions about what will be perceived as a benefit. For example, though it may be conceivable that someone who is overweight may be interested in engaging a personal trainer as part of a weight reduction strategy, it is quite possible that they have no interest in this approach.
  3.        They suggest an improved future.  They describe why people will be better off with the benefit.  Just as ‘you’ is an important word, so ‘will’ is also important in pointing to a better future: “This direct debit system will reduce the time you spend chasing payments”.

Persuading effectively is all about the other person, not you. It is difficult to communicate with others effectively if you are trying to persuade by explaining that they need something. It is more effective to show how you, your idea or your proposal gets them more of what they want. This is because people’s decisions are often motivated by what they want, and not what they need. 

Image source: Flickr