cartoon of man and a whiteboard with the message want to become more persuasive

I was moved to write this post about how to become more persuasive as a result of a recent set of experiences.  I have a friend who, due to personal circumstances, has become incredibly passionate about healthy eating.  He has started expressing his zeal in many ways including multiple social media posts and a hard-hitting presentation.

The problem is that his views are so far removed from those of the people he is trying to persuade, that his message is being received negatively.    I know this from reading the comments being left on social media.

This is a common presentation and persuasion error.   When we are convinced of the truth of our viewpoint, we forget that others are starting from a different place.

I liken this situation to two groups of opposing football supporters yelling at each other from opposite ends of the pitch.   They both believe passionately that their team is the best and neither is prepared to even consider the others point of view.

So what can you do when faced with this challenge?  Emphatically stating that you are right and they are wrong is unlikely to work and will often fan the flames of disagreement.  If you’d like to learn how to become more persuasive, especially when those you are seeking to influence are suspicious, skeptical or downright opposed to your views, then read on?

In my experience, the key is to start by establishing some sort of rapport with those who disagree with us.   Taking time to show that you empathise with the opposing view is the key to opening the minds of those who oppose us.    But how do we do this?

Tip 1: Put yourself in their shoes

Take time to step into the other skeptics point of view.

  • Why might they think the way they think?
  • What experiences might they have had that support their current beliefs?
  • What might a change their views cost them?

Tip 2: Test your assumptions – Ask questions

Do some research.   Speak to some of the people who hold the opposing view and express your wish to understand why they feel the way they do.

  • Ask open questions with the intention of truly discovering what is like to be in their position.
  • Seek to understand why they believe that their point of view is valid and correct

NB: Resist the temptation to challenge or contradict at this stage.   Your purpose here, to understand their position and why they hold it, not persuade them to accept your viewpoint.

Using my football metaphor from earlier, this is like going into the opponents end, under cover, to understand what is motivating them to support their team rather than yours.

Tip 3: Map out the journey your audience needs to go on

Persuasion is all about changing hearts and minds.  To become more persuasive you need to learn how to take your audience on a journey from where they are now, to where you need them to be.  If they are starting from a point of open hostility to your ideas, don’t expect them to immediately switch over to your views.    Identify some intermediate stages, or stepping-stones.   Using these as a route map, you can then plan a presentation or series of presentations designed to take your audience, step by step along the road to a new way of thinking.

For example, a generic route plan might be:

  • Hostile
  • Curious
  • Intrigued
  • Open
  • Interested
  • Convinced

How could you move your audience from hostile to curious?  What data could you show them, what stories, examples or case studies might arouse their curiosity?    Now that they are curious, how might you fan the flames of curiosity so that they want to know more, and so on through each step of the way?

Warning:  Changing deep-set beliefs, built up over a lifetime, will need patience, flexibility and determination, but it can be done. For example, consider how VW took over car manufacturer Skoda and slowly changed the public perception of the ailing brand 180 degrees!   

UPDATE  12/1/14
Thanks to a comment from fellow blogger Craig Haddon, I have discovered a SUPERB video by TED creator Chris Anderson made at a TED.  In it, he says much the same thing as I do in this post, but in his own inimitable style.  It’s well worth watching.   

I hope this post has given you some ideas for how to become more persuasive and I’d be grateful if you would share it with others using the social sharing buttons.

photo credit: mystuart (SEASON’S GREETINGS!!) via photopin cc



  1. Craig Hadden (@RemotePoss) on 28/10/2014 at 10:44

    Hi Gavin. Thought you might like to know that I got notified about a copy of your post at the following address.
    CAUTION: I visited the page, and it opened ads and x-rated pages in separate windows, so use caution if you visit it too. (For that reason, I’ve replaced the .com with .XXX so that it doesn’t become a valid link to their site.)

    • Gavin Meikle on 30/10/2014 at 17:50

      THanks Craig. Not sure how I can fix this. Any suggestions?

  2. Craig Hadden (@RemotePoss) on 12/01/2014 at 05:19

    Thanks Gavin, this is good and practical advice.

    I like the journey you map out in tip 3. Persuading gradually (often with story in-the-mix) seems much more likely to succeed than “blasting” people with your views.

    You might like this video of Chris Anderson from TED where he conveys some similar tips.

    (By all means leave a comment on my blog with a link back to your own post if you’d like to.)

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