Fine-Tuning Your Powers of Persuasion
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Leadership Marketing Nov 7, 2018

Take 5: Fine-Tuning Your Powers of Persuasion

From understanding power dynamics to telling a memorable story, here’s how to sell your ideas.

A business leader communicates complex ideas to a circle of employees.

Michael Meier

Being persuasive is a critical skill, whether you’re trying to get people to agree with you, buy what you’re selling, or just understand what you’re saying.

To win oth­ers to your cause, it helps to under­stand the sub­tle fac­tors that influ­ence every­day deci­sion-mak­ing. Here, Kel­logg fac­ul­ty reveal strate­gies for get­ting oth­ers to jump aboard your bandwagon.

1. Tips for Per­suad­ing Peo­ple Your Idea Is a Winner

Got a great new idea? It won’t nec­es­sar­i­ly be easy to get oth­ers to agree.

Peo­ple just aren’t nat­u­ral­ly ori­ent­ed towards inno­va­tion or change,” says Loran Nord­gren, an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of man­age­ment and orga­ni­za­tions. In fact, it’s the oppo­site: we love to hang on to the tried-and-true.

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For­tu­nate­ly, Nord­gren — who stud­ies influ­ence and deci­sion-mak­ing — offers up some ways to get around this ten­den­cy.

First, let the audi­ence know what it’s miss­ing. Your first incli­na­tion may be to stress the ben­e­fits of your new idea. But, Nord­gren says, it’s usu­al­ly more effec­tive to empha­size what some­one would miss out on by not embrac­ing it. That’s because we are wired to feel the pain of a loss more acute­ly than the plea­sure of a gain.

Next, let peo­ple expe­ri­ence the ben­e­fits. Accord­ing to a psy­cho­log­i­cal con­cept called the endow­ment effect,” we tend to val­ue some­thing more once it is in our pos­ses­sion. That’s why, for exam­ple, HBO offers its movie chan­nels free for three months — because it’s hard to give those chan­nels up once they’ve been ours.”

And last­ly, win over a crit­i­cal mass. Peo­ple tend to make deci­sions based on the behav­ior of those around them. So if you can first secure some easy wins, that will help con­vince late adopters to get on board.

2. Under­stand­ing Pow­er Dynam­ics Will Make You More Persuasive

When try­ing to per­suade an audi­ence, is it bet­ter to appear com­pe­tent (high­light­ing, say, your exper­tise on a top­ic) or to appear warm (stress­ing, instead, your sin­cer­i­ty on an issue)? Accord­ing to mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sor Derek Ruck­er, the answer may depend on whether the speak­er and the audi­ence feel equal­ly pow­er­ful — or powerless.

In a series of exper­i­ments, Ruck­er and col­leagues prompt­ed par­tic­i­pants to tem­porar­i­ly feel either very pow­er­ful or less pow­er­ful. The researchers then assigned some par­tic­i­pants to be com­mu­ni­ca­tors and some to be audi­ence mem­bers. The com­mu­ni­ca­tors were tasked with try­ing to per­suade the audi­ence to, for exam­ple, dine at a spe­cif­ic restaurant.

High-pow­er com­mu­ni­ca­tors tend­ed to rely on com­pe­tence-relat­ed argu­ments, while low-pow­er com­mu­ni­ca­tors were more like­ly to use warmth-relat­ed argu­ments.

Fur­ther­more, high-pow­er audi­ence mem­bers found pitch­es that focused on com­pe­tence to be more per­sua­sive. And low-pow­er audi­ence mem­bers were more like­ly to be per­suad­ed by pitch­es that focused on warmth.

In oth­er words, the bet­ter the pow­er match between com­mu­ni­ca­tors and audi­ence mem­bers, the more effec­tive the com­mu­ni­ca­tors’ tactics. 

3. Tools for Com­mu­ni­cat­ing Com­plex Ideas

Get­ting com­pli­cat­ed ideas across in an effec­tive way is at the heart of suc­cess­ful busi­ness inter­ac­tions, from one-on-one meet­ings to com­pa­ny-wide pre­sen­ta­tions.

Kel­logg finance pro­fes­sor Mitchell Petersen offers a few tools to help oth­ers under­stand and buy into com­plex ideas.

For one, use visu­als, par­tic­u­lar­ly to help your audi­ence remem­ber the rela­tion­ships between vari­ables. Illus­trat­ed with the right images, those rela­tion­ships become much more mem­o­rable and pow­er­ful.

Anoth­er tool: sto­ries. Nar­ra­tives that sum­ma­rize the rela­tion­ships between vari­ables are even more effec­tive at cement­ing your con­cept in your audience’s mem­o­ry.

The dopi­er the sto­ry, the more peo­ple may groan — but years lat­er, they remem­ber it,” Petersen says.

Final­ly, Petersen stress­es, encour­age audi­ence par­tic­i­pa­tion. Body lan­guage, such as lean­ing for­ward or nod­ding when asked a ques­tion, can help con­vey that you are gen­uine­ly inter­est­ed in pro­vid­ing clarity.

4. How to Make Ads That Per­suade Savvy Customers 

Cus­tomers know when they’re being mar­ket­ed to, which can make the marketer’s job of per­sua­sion dif­fi­cult.

Research from asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of mar­ket­ing Kent Grayson has found that cus­tomers con­sid­er some adver­tis­ing tac­tics to be legit­i­mate and infor­ma­tive. This can help mar­keters avoid wast­ing time and mon­ey on unnec­es­sary or inef­fec­tive adver­tis­ing strate­gies.

Among the strate­gies con­sid­ered most trust­wor­thy are report­ing a product’s posi­tion on a ranked list from a ver­i­fi­able third par­ty such as Con­sumer Reports, and giv­ing both the sale price and the reg­u­lar price of the prod­uct when it has been dis­count­ed, Grayson found.

Least trust­wor­thy tac­tics include celebri­ty endorse­ments and state­ments that the prod­uct will be on sale for a lim­it­ed time only.”

Grayson stress­es that while con­sumers are far from naïve, adver­tis­ers need not throw out the rule­book entire­ly. If you approach mar­ket­ing with the pre­sump­tion that peo­ple per­ceive all your actions with sus­pi­cion, you may end up tak­ing an over­ly care­ful approach to avoid trig­ger­ing an effect that is not there,” Grayson says. 

5. How a Room’s Light­ing Shapes Our Decisions

Per­sua­sion isn’t always about con­vinc­ing oth­ers of your good idea. Some­times we try to per­suade our­selves.

For exam­ple, when you’re hun­gry, are you more like­ly to decide that it’s a good idea to eat a sal­ad or a sun­dae? The answer may hinge on the flick of a light switch, accord­ing to Ping Dong and Aparna Labroo.

Via three stud­ies, Dong, an assis­tant pro­fes­sor of mar­ket­ing, and Labroo, a pro­fes­sor in the same depart­ment, learned that when a room is dim­ly lit, we feel more at lib­er­ty to choose what we real­ly want (think sun­dae), rather than what we think oth­ers would approve of (think sal­ad).

Pre­vi­ous research by oth­ers had pos­tu­lat­ed that dim­ly lit set­tings lead us to make hedo­nis­tic choic­es because dark­ness lets us feel anony­mous. But Dong and Labroo found a dif­fer­ent mech­a­nism at work.

They say that in the dark, peo­ple feel less con­nect­ed to oth­ers, and so we give less weight to what oth­ers think and more weight to our own (sweet, cool, creamy) desires.

Featured Faculty

Loran Nordgren

Associate Professor of Management & Organizations

Derek D. Rucker

Sandy & Morton Goldman Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies in Marketing, Professor of Marketing, Co-chair of Faculty Research

Mitchell A. Petersen

Glen Vasel Professor of Finance and Director of the Heizer Center for Private Equity and Venture Capital

Kent Grayson

Associate Professor of Marketing; Bernice and Leonard Lavin Professorship

Aparna Labroo

Professor of Marketing

Ping Dong

Assistant Professor of Marketing

About the Writer

Anne Ford is a writer in Evanston, Illinois.

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