If there is a constant in the field of persuasion, it is searching for the latest persuasion technique. Having read dozens and dozens of books on persuasion in research and preparation for the book I wrote, Inside-Out Persuasion, I came upon that drive again and again. And when I have talked about persuasion in some Introductions and with people individually, persuasion techniques seemed to always come up.
“What can I do to be even more persuasive? What technique can I use?” “What the one technique that will guarantee winning someone to my point of view?”
Now without doubt, there are many. There are books that focus exclusively on techniques. These are the how to books that skip the whole question of ethics and goes right to how to persuade someone to buy your product or agree with your conclusions. Why do they skip ethics? Simple. It’s too difficult. It sounds too moralistic. There’s no immediate payoff for it, in fact, it may cost you sales.
Not only is there this hunger for fool-proof techniques that will magically get the results you want, but there also seems to be a hunger for the newest and most subtle technique, especially secret techniques. And it would be untrue for me to say that there aren’t any. There are.
But that is going about healthy, authentic, and inside-out persuasion the wrong way. In fact, I believe that the most powerful “techniques” for influencing another person’s mind and heart are processes that we can hardly call a “technique” at all. And as a Meta-Coach, you already know them. You were trained in them. What you may not know is how to use them effectively or how to recognize them as persuasion techniques.
First is the incredible influential technique of attentive and caring listening. If you take the time to be with someone and listen empathically to them with full presence and care, doing that will enable a person to feel really heard, validated, and valued. It will also deeply influence that person. Obviously you are earning the right to be heard. Less obviously, you are influencing what that person focuses on, where he goes in his conversation, the solutions he finds, etc. Now imagine that! Listening persuades. You can persuade by attending to someone so that the person comes to value and care about your attention. It becomes a reward, an interpersonal reward that she seeks out.
Doesn’t attentive listening influence you? Do you not warm up to the person and want to return the favor? Do you not begin to like the person more and feel safe with that person? Are you not more willing to give that person a hearing?
Then there is questioning. On the surface it seems that questioning is about obtaining information and finding out things, yet it is about so much more. By your questions, you direct a person’s attention and invite him to go off in a certain line of thought. By questioning, you raise awarenesses or resources that she may never have thought of. By asking questions, you can draw people out so that they attain a new and larger perspective about something.
To ask a question is to frame a direction for the conversation. Not only that, but by questioning you can also set frames, pull frames apart, and outframe. Pretty powerful things— questions. The Meta-Model questions is described as a “precision model” because by the questions, you enable the person to think and speak more clearly. Think about that. Isn’t that amazing? No wonder questioning is a central persuasion skill and a technique for influencing minds and hearts.
You can see this in mind-lines, that is, the questions that facilitate reframing. In the book Mind-Lines: Lines for Changing Minds, we put together a formula for 26 ways to frame and reframe something, especially complaints, objections, excuses, limiting beliefs, etc. And they are formulated mostly as questions— questions that get a person to think about things from another point of view— another frame.
This is especially true of meta-questions. How much more persuasive do you think you’d be if you regularly asked some meta-questions— those higher level questions that orient a person in a direction that they really want to go? Would you enjoy doing that? Would that enrich your sense of yourself, your identity, and your skills as a coach?
Attentive listening with care and asking carefully designed questions are actually some of the unrecognized and hidden persuaders that are all around us. We swim in this environment without even recognizing the power or influence of these processes. The bottom line is that you do not have to go off and find some esoteric secret technique for persuasion— you have some very powerful tools in your hands already. Here are two of them. There are more.