How You Can Persuade Others

Imagine this.

A man in his twenties – who lived to paint. He loved it so much that he usually had time for little else: he would even stop eating or sleeping. He seemed to have vowed on the grave of some artist that he would paint forever.

Intense and Byron-ish, with eyes that seemed capable of seeing the dark secrets of one’s soul, he liked to paint the human form, the real people. Egon Schiele and Lucian Freud were his heroes. He was always looking for books on expressionism and contemporary realism. It was impossible to be around him and not hear about the connection between the creative process of art making and personal happiness.

Fast forward a few years.

He is an investment banker at a reputed Wall Street firm. He doesn’t paint anymore.

As a youth, the well meaning people around him tried putting sense into him, saying things like:

“Why don’t you do something more meaningful with your life?”

“Art can’t be a career.”

“Do you want to die penniless?”

Although he refused to reason with it, he always felt uneasy.

And finally, as happens most of the time, over the course of years, he gave up.

The world took away what meant the world to him.

It crushed him.

And you know what’s worse?

It’s not just him; there are many others like him – who are living with repressed feelings of unrealized ideals, unaccomplished desires , and unattained expectations.

Some don’t have the job of their choice; others don’t have the spouse of their dreams; and many are just not sure about the future.

And here’s the sad part.

Nobody Admits This

Because it is easier to hide underneath a mask and show what we want others to see.

We may appear to be one thing on the outside, while being something completely different on the inside.

We reveal ourselves in contradictions, not conversations – in what we don’t say. It’s all in the subtleties: a comment here, a response there, the tone of the voice, or the look in the eye. Or, those fleeting micro-expressions that come up on our faces when we are trying to hide a very strong feeling that is contradictory to what we are saying.

The best part?

We can get away with it.

Because few people pay attention to those.

Those who do, understand us.

We may fear that, but deep down, we are flattered.

Eugene O’Neill, the master of American drama, in the preface to Long Day’s Journey into Night , thanks his third wife, Carlotta, for the “love” that enabled him to write the play “with deep pity and understanding.” When I read the preface and the play in the final year of my master’s program in English Literature, my professor had said, “People want to be understood more than being loved.”

Because feeling understood is a crucial part of feeling cared about. And when we feel cared for, our brain releases happy chemicals that tell the thinking part of the brain we can trust them.

Our guards come down.

Afterall, somebody who takes the pains to know us that deeply must be genuinely interested in us.

We begin to “feel” comfortable around them.

If they suggest something, we listen.

They begin to gain power over us.

Why Persuasion Feels Like Seduction

Because persuasion is about creating tension.

You feel it between Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice and between Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind .

But, tension is just not between relationships. It can be also of task. Whether or not someone will be able to accomplish something in the face of obstacles also creates tension.

Tension is an element that almost every film and novel has. Lots of it. On almost every page; in every scene. It is used to hold audience’s attention – to take them on a roller coaster ride of highs, lows, twists, and turns of experiences.

Remember the first scene of Inglourious Basterds , where Nazi Colonel Landa interrogates the French farmer about the location of a Jewish family as they lie hidden beneath Landa’s feet?

Isn’t it nerve-wrecking?

That’s tension.

It is always uncomfortable and unsettling. You want to do something about it.

And therefore, tension is at the heart of every persuasion strategy.

How to Build the Heart of Persuasion

Identify the Stakes : Tension works well when you know what is at stake for people you are trying to persuade. Is it their future, their needs, their values, their goals, or…something else?

What is at risk? What will happen if they don’t take action?

Remember: fear and desire are two of the most commonly known emotions. People say yes to things to either move away from pain (or the fear of it) or to move toward pleasure (in desire).

And there are three things people fear and fantasize most about:

Money -The fear of being poor is such that it can drive us to do evil things: it made Jacob deceive his father. Because our survival needs (food, clothing, and shelter) are tied to money. And therefore, everybody hopes for financial stability. And the best part? No matter how much money you make, it’s never enough. We associate pleasure with money. I remember someone once telling me that, even though money can’t buy happiness, it can solve your money problems. And if those problems are affecting your happiness, then money does affect happiness in a certain way. Although I don’t agree with this, but that’s irrelevant here. The truth is that household income is strongly related to emotional well-being.

Love -Do you know why love is one of the main causes of stress? Because it brings with it the fear of losing the loved one. It was the fear of losing Padmé that Anakin turns to Darth Vader. We can live without love, but we can’t live without our beloved. Which is perhaps why most of us try to run away from love. Yet, we desire it. There was a study I read, according to which, some men who pay for sexual activities do so to find true love. Here, we are not debating whether the fantasy that love is all what we need is worth buying into or not, but it is definitely selling: romance fiction is one the most profitable genres, generating billions of dollars year after year.

Health – Health is wealth. We have heard this more times than the word “socialist” on Fox News . What does it really mean? The health is wealth bit…I mean. I guess it means that, if we don’t have the health to enjoy the wealth, it doesn’t matter how much wealth we accumulate. Also, once we lose our health, wealth cannot bring it back. That way, health trumps wealth. When a woman is pregnant, she hopes for a “healthy” baby. Outside of her womb, she fears for her child’s health and safety. She herself wants to remain healthy for her babies. The fear of losing health can cripple us. And the desire for maintaining it can, sometimes, drive us crazy. Just look at grocery isle of your supermarket or local convenience store, and you’ll see every version of the “healthy” options: from low-fat and diet to lean and light. And then, there are tons of books, magazines, pills, and whatnot teaching us how to remain healthy. Afterall, nutrition and health industry is a trillion dollar industry.

Communicate the Stakes : Once you have identified the stakes, you must craft it in a language that insinuates more than it says. Instead of saying you might lose money, love, or health, start with…. imagine that , what if , wouldn’t it be great if , etc.

Show them what they lack; place a mirror in front of them.

Make them anxious; make them question.

Get them to think what it would be like if….Engage their imagination, their fantasies, their yearnings.

Paint a picture of the future that is more desirable than the present – that is in keeping with what they are missing, or are capable of achieving. The idea is to give them a glimpse of what is to come.

But, Not So Fast : Keep them guessing. Build the anticipation.


Because we look forward to the expected moments of pleasure. The joy of planning a vacation far outweighs the vacation itself.

Anticipation drives us.

It impels us forward.

It creates the urge. And when people feel a strong urge, they want to comply with it – no matter what.

They are ready to do what you want them to.

At that point, propose the idea; pitch the offer. Unreluctantly and unapologetically. And then, wait for their answer. Don’t pester; don’t push.

Not Persuaded Yet?

If people are not doing what you want them to, there can be only three reasons for it.

  1. You have left things ambiguous. And that can confuse people. After tension, insinuation, and anticipation, you have to communicate your idea directly – when you know people would welcome it.
  2. When you injected fear of losing health, wealth, and love, you didn’t give them a sense of possibility: that if they act on their desires, they may get what they want.
  3. You didn’t dissuade their doubts – about you, your motivations, and your commitment to them.

Bottom line?

While persuasion works like seduction, it has to come from a place of sincerity and honesty. People should feel you are invested in them: that they matter to you.

Because that’s when they will be persuaded to do something.

The Good News…

People like to be persuaded. They especially like to be persuaded about the potential for a desirable future – a future that has no regrets. A future that allows them to have what their heart desires – to become what they are capable of becoming.

Like the man I introduced you to in the beginning. Wouldn’t he like to live out his dream?

Wouldn’t you?

Your people, your audience?

Give them a chance. Show them the way. Lead them on the path.

They are waiting for you.

The author of this post is Sharmeen Akbani Gangat, the Founder and CEO of The Glocul Group. If it weren’t for her entrepreneurial genes, Sharmeen would have been either a ballet dancer or a classical pianist. She started training for both when she was five years old. If only she could persuade herself to pursue her passion…

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