Persuasion

Knowing how to get other people to do what you want is an invaluable skill. If you can get what you want with words (and following up with actions, of course), then you don't have to rely exclusively on what you're physically capable of doing. You can make friends, get jobs and generally progress in the world faster if you know how to get people to see things your way.

Persuasion is one area that computers are not even close to mastering. While computer scientists have leveraged advanced AI techniques to create machines like Watson), they're still a long way from knowing how to effectively communicate with humans. The subtle nuances of human communication are simply too complex and filled with implicit meaning that computers get flustered by the most basic of conversations.

There are two primary reasons for this:

  1. We're still a long way off from having a firm grasp on natural language (there's an entire field dedicated to this called Natural Language Processing, or NLP for short). Although it's easy to make computers do basic one-to-one translations for words in different languages, conventions of conversation that we take for granted–like analogies, metaphors and irony–are still too difficult for even the most sophisticated machines to handle.

  2. Much of what makes a person persuasive is their ability to develop rapport through body language and facial expressions. The most cutting-edge robots we have are still a long way from demonstrating that they're capable of even looking natural, much less being persuasive. There's even a term for the revulsion and fear that's generated by machines that aren't quite human: the uncanny valley.

Until these two problems are resolved, computers are not going to take the place of persuasion professionals.

It's also a skill you can take directly to the bank. If you can persuade, there are legions of businesses who will be looking to hire you to persuade people to purchase their products and services. Sales (which is business-oriented persuasion) is a profession that won't be getting automated any time soon and it can be incredibly lucrative.

Not only can you get a job as a salesperson, you could start a business and, using your powers of persuasion, get other people to hand money to you directly (as opposed to handing money to your employer). Every business requires sales expertise, and you can sell a well-turned persuasion ability for large sums of money. And that's a business that, as I mentioned before, will not be getting automated any time soon.

Even if you don't want to take on persuasion as a profession, having a silver tongue can help you get through job interviews and other screening processes. It might seem unfair, but the reality is that job skills on their own are rarely what determines who gets the job–the people with the strongest ability to sell themselves are the ones who get hired.

Lots of people feel like sales and persuasion are "sleazy" or somehow dishonest. There are certainly elements of truth to those ideas, since persuasion is often used to rip people off in various ways. However, the reality is that persuasion is required for anyone who wants to survive in the world–regardless of whether you're in danger of being automated or not. If you can't get people to see things your way and help you achieve your goals, you're setting yourself up for failure.

Learning Materials


Read These

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion & Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade by Robert Cialdini

Influence is the best possible starting point for anyone who wants to understand the basics of persuasion, and Pre-Suasion builds on that framework by going into detail about focus and attention. Both are mandatory reading for anyone who wants to improve their persuasion skills.

There are loads of books out there about how to be more likable, but this one was written by a psychology professor who actually knows what he's talking about. This book is filled with science and light on self-help fluff, which makes it much more valuable than other books in this genre.

The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It...Every Time by Maria Konnikova

Con artists have always fascinated me because they're essentially in the business of selling nothing. They are so good at persuasion that they can get people to part with their money using only their words and a few minor deeds. Even though I find their trade completely unethical, there are lessons to be learned from people who do this. Even if you don't want to try to improve your own persuasion skills through their example, this book is helpful because it can help you spot when someone is trying to con you.

The Ultimate Sales Letter: Attract New Customers. Boost your Sales. by Dan Kennedy

Persuasion is not limited to speaking directly to other people. In fact, learning how to write in a persuasive way can be much more impactful–a persuasive piece of writing can be distributed all over the world quickly and efficiently, putting your message in front of millions of people. But writing in a way that's geared towards selling is not the same kind of writing we're taught in school, and learning to write this way requires a re-education of sorts. This book will get you started on the path towards writing that converts words into dollars.

Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations by Dan Ariely

Dan Ariely has written a plethora of books about behavioral psychology, and they're all worth reading. However, this short guide is the most relevant for our purposes because it's tied directly to persuasion. It explores what drives people to do what they do, which you can use to your advantage whenever you're looking to utilize persuasion.

Weaponized Lies: How to Think Critically in the Post-Truth Era by Daniel Levitin

Weaponized Lies is an excellent guide for spotting lies and half-truths that are perpetrated in mass communication mediums. Much like the book about con artists, the value here is primarily in detecting when someone else is trying to persuade you with less-than-honest methods.

The Art of Seduction by Robert Greene

Don't be fooled by the title: this isn't really about getting into people's pants (although that is definitely a form of persuasion). The concept of seduction here is more akin to putting people into a trance with your words. It's worth reading even if you're happily married and have no affair-related ambitions.

Watch These

The Science of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini

An animated introduction to the ideas that form the core of persuasion, as laid out in Cialdini's book Influence. Don't watch this instead of reading the book, but use it to give yourself a quick primer before reading it.

The Science of Productivity and Motivation by Big Think

Dan Ariely walks through the basics of motivation. Like the video above, this is not a substitute for reading his book, but is a good way to get introduced to the ideas.

Lessons from the Best Salesman in the World by Joe Girard

This video is worth watching because you can observe the tonality, body language and overall demeanor of a world-class salesperson. The content of what he says is far less important than the way he delivers the message.

How to Take Action

If you really want to get better at persuasion, you'll need to find some goal that can only be accomplished by persuading another person to do something. Although reading and watching videos about persuasion will give you ideas about how to get better, you'll only make large leaps of progress by going out into the world and seeing how others respond to your approach.

The simplest way to get started is to sell something. A good way to start is by putting something up for sale on a website like Craigslist. This will give you the opportunity to practice both your written (in the ad itself) and verbal (in-person interaction with the buyer) sales skills and make a little bit of money in the process.

If you're feeling more ambitious, you can try selling a service of some kind. What kind of niche skills do you possess, and what would motivate someone to choose you over a competitor? How do you position yourself in terms of price and quality? Try picking up the phone and calling a business or person you think needs your service. It might fail (at which point you've lost nothing except a few moments of your time), or you might end up with a whole new stream of income.

Want to put your skills to the test? Go get a full-time sales job. Sales is a tough job with a high turnover rate, but sales departments don't discriminate against people who don't have academic credentials or experience. If you can learn and demonstrate that you can close deals, you will have an income.

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