Monday, August 24, 2009

Persuasive Words – Phrasing and Credibility

This is the last article for this series on Persuasion. Even though I could write lots more on this subject, there are other subjects that are just as important and I want to get what you feel you need. After this installment, I am going to move into another topic. If you have something in particular you would like to cover regarding face-to-face communication in business, email me. This blog is about learning skills to help you influence your company to get better results, so let me know if there is something specific you are grappling with.

Checkout the Pathfinder Communicatotrs LinkedIn group ( to see great NEWS articles from Also, come see me at the September 22nd meeting of the Society for Software Quality. Go to ( for meeting details.

Now on to the newsletter....

When engaged in persuasion, you can tell the winners from the losers pretty quickly. The losers are insincere, make claims they can’t back up, shade the truth to make their stories sound better, and generally lead the organization down a path. If you enter into a persuasion and someone is doing this to you, you need to ask them questions – the important questions – which we have covered in the last few weeks on this series. What evidence do they have? How do they know? Isn’t there a downside?

Listen for these words when others speak: free, proven, guaranteed, easy, or risk-free. These are very persuasive when they are true. If others are using them, ASK THEM TO EXPLAIN THE REASONING behind their use. If these words go unquestioned, and they are accepted by the listeners, you will have a HARD time changing their minds. Sometimes, we want to believe that one or more of those words apply to the software package being recommended by a colleague. If we wait to question them, even just to wait until we can ask them in private, the decision makers in the room can be swayed and could make decisions that will be hard for them to take back without losing face. It is important to plant seeds of doubt in the group if doubt is appropriate. And remember, if you question the magic words and the speaker has the right information prepared to prove their point, it goes a long way towards cementing the decision. So use these words yourself AND BE PREPARED TO DEFEND THEM with sound logic and easy-to-understand reasoning.

Persuasive language is always more persuasive when it is simple to understand. Persuasion is often telling a story in which the listener can imagine themselves involved as a character. You lead them from point to point, and by the time you reach the end, you share the same perspective – they are persuaded. It is often just explaining something in a way that is easily understood and credible. Simplicity extends to numbers as well; that is it is usually unnecessary to say that “sales were up 9.815% this year” when you could say “sales were up nearly 10%”.

Wordy sentences make listeners feel uneasy, as if you are trying to carefully craft a partial truth. Those of you that have attended classes or have read this newsletter for very long will remember that the “S” in THE SCORE is about simplicity and sincerity. They are important independently, and together have a dramatic impact on your perceived credibility. If you say “At various points throughout the fiscal reporting period, production figures were unpredictable and at other times quite steady, ending in a negative position versus forecast overall” you may sound like you are trying to avoid saying that “Production was down last year”. This can even be embarrassing when someone a listener asks “Did all of that you just said add up to production was down?” and you have to answer “Yes”. Even though you weren’t trying to hide anything, it feels as if you MIGHT have been, or that you felt you could fool the audience, or that you didn’t think anyone would notice – and that attacks your credibility.

Finally speak in a way that is positive, confident, cooperative, and credible. Be careful not to wander into arrogance or insincerity. Instead of saying “If we accept this proposal”, say “When we accept this proposal”; instead of “I guess we will need a consultant during phase 2 of the project”, say “I believe we will need a consultant during phase 2 of the project”; instead of “Your idea won’t work”, say “Let’s talk though your idea so that I understand it better”.

Give me your ideas for the next series. Otherwise, next week I will be left to my own devices.

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