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"In the end, people are persuaded not by what we say, but by what they understand." John C. Maxwell

You are in an unfamiliar room; take a minute to look around you. You will close your eyes in a minute, so concentrate on noticing everything that is brown in your environment. Commit them to memory. Ready? Now, close your eyes, and point to something green.

This is an experiment that corporate trainer and author Kevin Hogan often does with audiences; almost invariably, people fail. Why? Because he has told them what to see; he has planted the idea that they must remember brown, and so they put green out of their minds.

What does this have to do with selling? With negotiating? With influencing folks to buy your product, invest, or work with you? Find out - and you'll have a toolbox full of persuasion techniques at your disposal.

Covert Persuasion: Not Sneaky - Seamless

In Covert Persuasion: Psychological Tactics and Tricks to Win the Game, Kevin Hogan and James Speakman write:

Covert persuasion is about bypassing the critical factor of the human mind without the process being known to the receiver of the message. It's about getting past both resistance and reactance. This is accomplished when one person sends a message and the message is received without significant critical thought or questioning on the part of the receiver.

In our example, the message sent was "brown." It is received without question by the audiences to whom Hogan speaks. For our purposes, we don't care if people see brown, green, purple, or orange - as long as they say "yes" to our proposals.

The same principles apply, though: if you can send these covert messages, you can overcome resistance and move more seamlessly towards your goal. At the same time, your "prospects" move towards their goals. Mutually beneficial solutions are at the crux of Covert Persuasion. You're not trying to trick people; you're trying to "advance everyone's position."

Covert Persuasion 101

If you're the type to skim and move around in books, rather than reading from page 1 to done, chapter 4 is where the gold is. Here, Hogan and Speakman provide an in-depth "catalogue of techniques to choose from to get the result you want in almost any situation and with almost anyone."

Let's take a look at some of the most powerful tactics:

  1. Building strong rapport - quickly. It's easy to build rapport if people genuinely like you. One way to forge a strong bond is by discovering what is important to your target and expressing interest. Another is finding commonalities (e.g. type of work, business structure, family structure) and using them to "break the ice."

  2. Synchronizing with your audience. It is human nature: we like people who are like us. You can build rapport more quickly if your targets perceive that you are just like them; that you have similar concerns, interests, and/or values. The key is to connect - and then lead.

  3. Synchronizing voice, breath, and posture. It's not enough to say that you are like your targets. You have to prove it. Subtle tactics, like matching the pace of their speech (but not verbal ticks, like constant "umm"'s or stuttering) are effective. If you're meeting with a rapid-fire talker, up your intensity. If they're more deliberate, slow down.

    Studies show that breathing in sync with another person increases rapport. Believe it or not, this is one of the most potent covert persuasion techniques. Watch your inhalations and exhalations, and time them to get into rhythm with your target.

    Posture is another key to synchronization and rapport. Don't mirror posture or body language directly - the covert will become overt, and uncomfortable. Instead, adjust your body so it is in synch. Are they slouched? Don't assume a power pose. Are they rigid? Don't flop all over your seat; sit straight and tall.

  4. Take the lead. After you synchronize with your targets, you can then begin to take the lead. Start to alter your speech, breathing rates, and posture. Watch them: are they subconsciously doing the same? If, for instance, you inject more energy and enthusiasm into your voice, do they "wake up" and mirror that? If so, you know you've built strong rapport. You have the lead.

  5. Move. Stuck? Your targets may not mirror you; they may be resistant or stubbornly sticking to "no" or "I don't know." Get them up. A simple walk or relocation to a coffee shop not only changes the physical position, it can change the mental position.

  6. Induce reciprocity. One of the best ways to "get" something? Give something. At the onset of meeting/pitch/presentation, give your targets something of value or offer to solve a problem for them. Human nature dictates that they will feel compelled to return the favor - ideally with a "yes."

  7. Make a damaging admission. Well...within reason. Admit to a minor flaw or weakness in your proposal. It's the targets' job to find holes in your plan. Doing it for them sets them at ease and makes you appear far more trustworthy. Another way to do this is to acknowledge the counter-argument: for instance, "Company Z does make a good, reliable widget." Now prove how yours is even better.

  8. Tell a story. Put all those anecdotes to good use. Tell targets stories about clients who have faced similar situations/problems/challenges. How did your solution help? People automatically paint themselves into the narrative; a good story gives them a glimpse into a better future.

  9. Harness the power of 3. From the Three Stooges and the Three Musketeers to the Holy Trinity and the Three Patriarchs of Judaism, the number 3 appears again and again in history, culture, music, and art. One reason is because as we evolved, we knew choice was critical to survival (e.g. we can run from a lion or fashion a spear: great choices!). But given too many choices, we become overwhelmed. Three is the magic number, the sweet spot. Three is the easiest number of points for anyone to remember.

    Take advantage of this by making three points in a row. Make sure the first is a strong, clear fact. Follow with two assertions that could be open to interpretation or debate; the first will lend veracity and credibility to the next two.

  10. Hypnotize your targets. You are getting very sleepy... Don't worry: that's not the type of hypnotism we're talking about. Instead, we mean hypnotic language. It's a way of phrasing your requests to elicit the desired response, of issuing a command but not appearing to tell the targets what to do. For example:
    • "I wouldn't tell you to buy this car; that's your decision."
    • "You don't have to invest in several funds; one or two is just fine."
    • "I wouldn't tell you to invest more money in stocks; you need to figure that out on your own."
    Trying starting with "hypnotic language patterns," or phrases such as, "I wouldn't tell you to...", "What would it be like if you had...", or "Imagine what would happen if..." It helps put targets in the proper frame of mind.

These tactics will help you forge a shortcut into the minds of your targets, so you can lead them more quickly and efficiently towards "yes." The good news: Hogan and Speakman offer 45 more tactics in their book. Learn them, apply them, and persuade anyone.


Larry Hart

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