Grandma used to say, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” We are much more willing to do something for someone we like. While that may be obvious, what is surprising is how powerful a part rapport can play in persuasion, especially when we don’t think about it. Companies such as Tupperware and Mary Kay are built on it; Joe Girard, the “world’s greatest car salesman” according to Guinness Book of World Records, became so by making friends with his customers, and then sending out monthly reminders that he liked them.
When we look at the research that has been done on likability, we’ll see that some other well-worn phrases don’t fare so well. We’ll look at seven factors that make us likeable and hence more persuasive.
You’ve heard the trite old saying: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him to fish and you feed him for life.” It applies to persuasion as well as teaching. When you provide external incentives to get someone to change their behavior, it’s like giving them a fish. It’s easy to get people to do things to gain rewards or avoid punishments, but the desired behavior only lasts as long as you have the ability to a) monitor the behavior and b) furnish the necessary reward or punishment. If you want to drive lasting behavior change, you’ve got to find ways to get people to do things for their own reasons, and the best way to do this is to use their sense of who they are to provide internal, long-lasting motivation.
I actually first learned this when I was 15, though I didn’t know it at the time. I was a member of the Jack Nelson Swim Club. Nelson had been an Olympic swimmer and Olympic coach, and was a legend in swimming circles. I wasn’t good enough to be coached directly by him, so when I was summoned to his office, I was terrified. I had been a smart-aleck and all-around pain in the rear to my coach and pretty much ignored his yelling and threats, but now I knew that I was in for it. I was already figuring out how I was going to tell my parents I had been thrown off the team.
Election season is upon us, so our mailboxes are filled with persuasion attempts. While it’s tempting to just throw them away, it can be instructive to examine them carefully to see what works and what does not work. Yesterday, I received a copy of this appeal that one of my readers had received, and she asked for my opinion. Her subject line read: “Example of a persuasive political message I actually find persuasive”, so you know what she thought of it.
For decades, Jerry Brown has been a champion for the people of California. He has served as governor, as mayor of Oakland, and is currently the attorney general.
Brevity is one of the most critical attributes of practical eloquence, because you’re dealing with ever-shrinking attention spans and the discipline of distilling your message to its essence will greatly clarify your thinking.
Here’s one of the best examples of brief eloquence that I’ve come across.
When General Ira Eaker led the first contingents of the 8th Air Force to England in 1942, try hopes were running high for America to add its muscle to the war against Nazi Germany. So, when he was asked to speak at a luncheon, the audience was poised to hang on his every word. Here’s his speech, in its entirety:
“We won’t do much talking until we’ve done more fighting. After we’ve gone, we hope you’ll be glad we came.”
He sat down amid thunderous applause.
If you have any other examples of brief but powerful messages, please share them.