strategy #5: Just the facts, ma’am.
At one particular Internet forum, I was constantly impressed by a member who had an amazing talent for communicating complicated (sometimes controversial) ideas without making anyone angry. So what did this Zen master of persuasion do that most of us do not? Simple: He stuck to the facts and kept his ego out of it.
The block-quote immediately below is a hypothetical example of how not to foster a persuasive conversation, intended to contrast the genius of the real-life forum example from our Zen master, further down the page:
TV-Forum Newbie: Hey guys, I think all televisions are the same. I can’t understand why some of you would pay 5 grand for a TV when the one for 500 bucks is just as good. Could someone explain this to me?
Mr. Ego: I completely disagree with you. All televisions are not the same. Why don’t you read some product reviews so you’ll be able to tell the difference? You will find differences in black level, brightness, video processing, colorimetry, geometry, contrast, and other variables. Again, all televisions are not the same, and I completely disagree with the premise of this question.
Okay, so what’s wrong with the way Mr. Ego responded? At first glance, his response seems fine. I mean, it certainly could have been worse! But only one sentence in his response focuses on the facts. The rest could easily be interpreted as a selfish assertion of ego, a quest for distinction and superiority, whether intentional or not.
So how did the Zen master handle this particular exchange? He used that one sentence I’m referring to, the one sentence that answered the question and stuck to the facts (see below):
Newbie: Hey guys, I think all televisions are the same. I can’t understand why some of you would pay 5 grand for a TV when the one for 500 bucks is just as good. Could someone explain this to me?
Zen Master: You will find differences in black level, brightness, video processing, colorimetry, geometry, contrast, and other variables.
Not very interesting, is it? But the thread from which I copied this text proceeded smoothly, with the newbie asking questions and the expert responding with simple, uncolored facts. The expert was eventually recognized for his expertise, the newbie left with newfound understanding, and no one became upset. In short, a mind had been changed.
All because the Zen master stuck to the facts.
Strategy #6: Sometimes, it’s what you don’t say that counts.
The preceding example was important not merely for what was said, but for what wasn’t. We’ve already mentioned the benefits of avoiding ego driven statements, but here’s a more comprehensive list of statements that derail persuasion more often than not:
* Assertions of Superiority: I do it the right way; This is unacceptable; My way is better; Why can’t you do it like so-and-so; Your way of thinking is flawed.
* Assertions of Independence: I disagree; We don’t see eye to eye; We’re not on the same page; My position is different than yours.
* Personal Attacks: Your thinking is stupid; I can’t believe how dumb you are; Hearing you say that makes me question your morality.
Aside from the personal attacks, many of the preceding statements have their place. The key is knowing when to use them. Usually, the person seeking to persuade is better off letting the strength of his argument establish both his superiority and independence without explicitly claiming them.