Persuasion isn’t One of the Seven Dirty Words

The late comedian George Carlin had a hilarious routine about the seven dirty words you couldn’t say on television. I won’t repeat the seven words, but I will say this; persuasion wasn’t one of those words! Having shared that, I realize some people link persuasion to sales and therefore have a negative reaction to it. I get it. After all, most people try to avoid salespeople like the plague because they feel they’ll be sold something they don’t want or need. However, let me say emphatically that ethical persuasion is not manipulative selling.

This is top of mind because not too long ago I had an interesting exchange with someone regarding persuasion after watching their video presentation online. The title of their presentation was How To Convince Your Clients, When Appropriate, To Have a Social Media Presence. After watching it I posted a comment on the website:

“I was disappointed because I never felt like you shared ways to persuade someone that using social media could be beneficial. Most of the commentary was about making sure the people you speak to already see some value but quite often we know businesses could benefit (even if they don’t see that currently) so I was hoping to hear insights into how to manage that discussion.”

His reply started off this way:

“I never try to persuade people to do anything. It is like trying to sell glasses to a blind man. You should never have to convince. You move on to people who get it, and in doing that the people who are not yet will become convinced as they see people they know, like and trust start to use social media.”

Really? You “never try to persuade people to do anything”? I wish I had his wife, kids, clients, boss, etc., because life would be easy. That’s one of the most foolish statements I’ve seen on the web in quite some time. We are persuading people every day. Whenever you ask someone to do something they’re not currently doing – kids and homework, spouse and chores, boss, and a raise, turning prospects into customers – you’re attempting to persuade. And like it or not, what you say and how you say it can make all the difference between yes or no.

I agree that some people are more ready to buy or change and some people are never ready. His example of selling glasses to a blind man would be old school, manipulative selling because in a situation like that the salesperson only cares about making the sale regardless of the need for the product. That’s unethical and not what I’m talking about when I write about or teach ethical persuasion.

Many people are in a ready state to buy or change but have multiple people attempting to convince them their product, service, or idea is the right one for them. In those cases, it’s usually the person who does the best job persuading that gets the yes answer.

Some people may not seem like they’re in a ready state but change their minds when someone persuades them otherwise. Here are two examples:

Steve Jobs. He created products no survey group said people wanted or needed. However, once he created a new product then said something like, “A thousand songs in your pocket,” everyone saw the possibilities and wanted it.

Life insurance. Most people who fail to buy life insurance don’t make that poor choice because they don’t need it. People don’t buy coverage because emotionally no one wants to think about death. Too often they convince themselves “it will never happen to me” or “I have plenty of time for that” so they focus on more pressing issues. I doubt a widower ever cursed a life insurance salesman for persuading the deceased spouse to purchase a life policy.

Aristotle said persuasion was “the art of getting someone to do something they wouldn’t ordinarily do if you didn’t ask.” If everyone were doing what we wanted we’d never have to persuade. Instead, we could sit back and enjoy life as it unfolds but you and I know that’s not the case. Not a day goes by where everyone does what you want because they just “get it.” Knowing that you might want to sharpen up your persuasion skills a bit otherwise you’ll have a hard time getting people to do what you want.

So let me end with this – persuasion isn’t a dirty word. Persuasion is a skill where you understand how people think and act then adjust your communication accordingly. Like so many other skills it can be used for good or bad but that says more about the person attempting to persuade than it does the act of persuasion itself.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.
1 reply
  1. Anthony
    Anthony says:

    Here! Here! I had a friend once tell me he'd never go into sales, felt it was "below" him. I reminded him, he'd stay unemployed if he didn't learn to "sell" himself. Not sure what he's doing today.


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