10 Conversational Habits That Make You More Influential

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“He’s a born salesman.”

You’ve probably heard someone say this about someone who is particularly influential. You may have even used it yourself. But it’s not entirely accurate

While some people have an innate sense of how to influence others, anyone can learn to use these techniques in their conversations. Here are ten of the most powerful.

1. Be Likable

People are more likely to agree with you if they like you, according to Dr. Robert Cialdini, author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. In this best-selling book, Dr. Cialdini identifies “liking” as one of six principles scientifically proven to influence people’s decisions.

So how do you get people to like you?

The easiest way is to pay the person a compliment. We all love hearing praise and naturally have positive feelings about the people giving it.

Similarity is another aspect of liking that you can use. During conversations, try to bring up shared interests or experiences. If you don’t know much about the other person, try to mirror the person’s body language and cadence.

2. Appeal to the Person’s Self-Image

It’s almost impossible to change someone’s mind on anything. To win someone to your way of thinking, the change has to come from within themselves. This is where consistency and commitment, another of Cialdini’s principles, comes in.

Using this principle, if you can get someone to view themselves in a certain way, they will be compelled to act in a way that is consistent with that perception. For example, in one study, natural gas users were offered energy-saving tips, and those who agreed to conserve energy would have their names printed in the newspaper.

This commitment reduced energy consumption by 12.2 percent. Not only that, but because these people now saw themselves as public-spirited energy conservationists, they continued to save energy even after that they were informed their names would no longer be printed in the newspaper.

In your conversations, try to get the other person to make statements and agreements to position them as the type of person who would do what you really want them to do before making any requests.

3. Frame Your Argument

Because of cognitive bias, how you present things makes a huge difference.

People are more inclined to take risks when the proposal is framed negatively rather than positively. This is because we overvalue what we have and undervalue what we don’t. Emphasizing what a person will miss out on, is often more effective than talking about what they’ll gain.

You can also use the word because to frame an argument or request. A famous study conducted at a busy photocopier proves how powerful this can be. In one instance, researchers framed the request to cut in line this way:

“Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?”

This request was successful 60 percent of the time. Their success rate increased to 94 percent with this simple change in wording:

“Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?”

Even more interesting, the mere presence of a reason seems to be more important than the reason itself, as evidenced by this third variation that was successful 93 percent of the time:

“Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make copies?”

Think about how you would react to different frames, and use that knowledge to guide how you interact with people.

4. Use Social Proof

We look to others to help us make decisions. When these people are more similar to us, the pull is especially strong. That’s why marketers, for instance, often tout how many people use their product or sign up for their newsletter.

Social proof can also be effective in helping people choose between varying options. Deciding between different pricing options, for instance requires a lot of analysis to weigh price versus features. Highlighting the most popular option gives people an easy comparison with which to base their decision.

Social proof can be effective even without large numbers. Knowing how a similar person acted provides a blueprint for how the person you’re speaking with should make his or her own decisions.

Try mentioning these things when someone is having trouble deciding or when you want to steer him or her in a certain direction.

5. Tell a Story

There’s a reason that most religions use stories in their teachings, and politicians tell stories on the campaign trail. People remember stories because they resonate with people. You can easily relate to characters in a story in a way that you don’t when simply hearing facts.

There’s actual science behind why storytelling is so effective. Neuroscientists noticed that facts, figures, and bullet points activate the part of the brain that processes language. By contrast, stories activate multiple parts of the brain, including the areas active when we experience events ourselves.

Try to spin your selling points into a story with a beginning, middle, and end. Be descriptive, and paint a visual picture to make the biggest impact.

6. Issue a Challenge

In his classic book How to Win Friends & Influence People, Dale Carnegie relays the story of how Charles Schwab, with little effort, turned a mill where workers weren’t meeting their production quotas into the most productive department in the entire plant.

Schwab simply asked the mill manager how many heats the day shift had made and wrote the number in chalk on the mill floor. When the night shift came into work they naturally asked what the number meant. That was sufficient to ignite the spark in them.

That night, they completed one more heat than the day shift had and wrote that number on the floor. Not wanting to be shown up, the day shift came back and did even more, and so on.

The reason this tactic worked so well, where everything the mill manager had tried failed, is because it leveraged the worker’s pride. The most effective motivation comes from within, not outside of us.

You don’t need to be too aggressive or combative in your challenge, but you can use this same tactic in your conversations to motivate the action you’re looking for.

7. Tap into Emotions

Neuroscientist Antionio Damasio made a revealing discovery when studying people who had damage to the part of their brains responsible for emotions. You might think that these people would make better decisions since they are based only on logic. But in reality, these people had trouble making even the simplest decision.

While we all like to think that we make decisions logically, emotions are central in the decision-making process. And because we process emotions faster than logic, the role of logic is often to confirm the decision our emotions have already made.

We can all think of times when we’ve used logic to justify emotional decisions. For example, you don’t need that new 50-inch HD television, but you tell yourself that it’s on sale, and that it’s not really that expensive when you break down the cost per day over the next several years.

Anger, fear, greed, and pride are all powerful emotions you can use to be more persuasive in your conversations.

8. Find Areas of Agreement

The more you can get someone saying yes, the more persuasive you will be. It doesn’t even matter what you’re agreeing about initially. That’s because the more people agree with you, they more they feel they have in common with you. And remember, people like others who are similar to themselves.

But that’s not the only reason finding things to agree about makes you more persuasive. There’s a psychological phenomenon known as the halo effect, where people transfer positive feelings about one characteristic onto another. Therefore, because I agree with you on these points, I will surely agree with you on these other things, too.

9. Make Comparisons

One of the easiest and most powerful ways to make something seem better or worse is to make a comparison. Here are two examples:

When Williams-Sonoma put a bread maker on the market for the first time, sales were dismal. On the recommendation of a marketing research firm, Williams-Sonoma introduced a slightly larger model with upgraded features, and sales took off—for the original model.

It turns out people had no idea whether the original bread machine was at a good price or not. Without anything to compare it to, the value of the bread maker was arbitrary.  With the introduction of a more expensive model, people had a reference point with which to make their decisions.

The Economist was even more clever in their use of this hack to steer subscribers toward a more expensive option. Behavioral economist Dan Ariely explains it in this TED talk around the 12:30 mark. (although the entire video is well worth watching).

His suggestion is to offer a slightly inferior option that’s similar to the one you want people to choose.

10. Be Authoritative

People are conditioned from an early age to comply with authority. This becomes so ingrained in us that we often go along with what our superiors say, even when it goes against our better judgment.

The Milgram Experiment is probably the most famous study on this subject. Volunteers, thinking they were taking part in a memory study, were instructed to test another participant on a set of words he memorized and administer increasingly strong electric shocks for each wrong answer. Of course, the person hooked up to the electrodes was an actor, and no real shocks were given.

Despite verbal outcries and pleas from the “learner,” two-thirds of volunteers in the “teacher” role went through with the experiment to the point where they gave what would have been a fatal amount of voltage.

There are several ways you can be perceived as an authority during conversations. You can dress the part, speak with conviction, and casually bring up credentials or past experiences that demonstrate your authority.

Even if you’re not a born salesperson, these strategies can help you be as persuasive as anyone. Just be sure that you use these tools ethically.

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