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How to Persuade Others into Getting Your Way

According to a hypnotherapist, a hostage negotiator, and a lawyer.

Find it tricky to make anything go your way? Not particularly adept at getting literally anything you want out of life?

Your problem, friend, is that you're going about everything entirely the wrong way. What you need is some insider knowledge from the masters of persuasion. So to help you get on the right track, I got some tips from a bunch of professionals who are versed in making people do what they want them to do: a hypnotherapist, a hostage negotiator, an activist, and a lawyer.

The Hypnotherapist 

Darren Marks is the founder of Harmony Hypnotherapy, a hypnotherapy clinic in London. He is an expert in hypnosis and neuro-linguistic programming, and is also a certified hypnosis and hypnotherapy instructor for the International Association of Counselors and Therapists.

I think the key thing is that persuasion is always about making someone look at things from the outside as well as the inside. When you have that eagles-eye perspective, you can learn new things and gain different lessons from experiences in a way that you can't do when you're looking at a situation through your own eyes; you're too in it, and it's too emotional, too difficult.

When people come and see me, it's not so much about trying to get them on my side and more about trying to get them on their own side. Almost always, the people who are seeing me are having an inner conflict. With stopping smoking, there's going to be the part of a person that wants to stop and another part that doesn't want to stop—otherwise, they wouldn't make an appointment with someone like myself. A really important part of that process would be what I'd call an inner-negotiation. I'll get people to visualize—to imagine the part of them that wants to stop and the other part of them that doesn't want to stop, and they have a conversation, and they work out the way forward.

Rapport is also an integral part of persuasion, so when people come and see me the first time, we get to know each other. They get a better idea of what I do, because they have to feel really comfortable in order for the process to work with them. So it's just kind of becoming friends with people and making a good connection. That's always the first step. Once you do that, people are generally not resistant.

The hypnotic experience itself is a natural state. If you've ever daydreamed or been immersed in a film or a book, or gone for a walk or a drive, and kind of forgotten how you got there because you've drifted off into this relaxed daydream-type state, that, in effect, is what hypnosis is like. In many respects, it's very similar to meditation, but it's what you do when you're in that relaxed state that's really important. That inner-negotiation process, when you're in a relaxed and focused state, becomes a much simpler thing to do than if, say, you're getting really annoyed with yourself. It's being in that right state of mind that enables you to change your perspective. Persuasion is about changing perspective. When you change your perspective on something and it feels completely different, then you can change your behavior and your opinions.

A kid who may well have just got his own way. Photo via Pixabay/ArmyAmber

The Hostage Negotiator

David Ryan was a hostage negotiator and a hostage negotiator coordinator for the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police Service at the New Scotland Yard and was also trained by the FBI. Nowadays he teaches the board of directors at big corporations how to protect themselves from criminal duress and crises.

The first thing is to identify who it is you're dealing with. There are many personality types, but the main two are people who are emotionally involved and people who are instrumentally involved. An instrumental criminal is calm, cool, and collected, and knows exactly what his options are and is trying to level those options for his benefit. It wouldn't be of any value using emotional language on this person. An emotionally involved person is somebody who's at the end of his or her rope and is about to crack, so you'd treat him or her in a different way. People like this, they're highly agitated, and they're in a situation that's not normal for them, and they're not listening to logic. So applying logic from a conversation is not going to work until you show that you can calm them down. And you can show them that in the words and the tone you're using. Once you've reached that point, then you can start building influence, and that can lead to persuasion. It's a much slower process with a criminal who's instrumental.

Also, if you're trying to persuade people, it's important to understand what their situation is. It's about perspective and reality. For example, it's easy to persuade a criminal who thinks he's got all the cards in his hand, but actually, from the other point of view, he hasn't got all of the control that he thinks he has.

But, as with all persuasion in life, it's best if you can use someone else rather than yourself to persuade them, because you're the authoritative figure. If I was in business, I'd be using my customers as ambassadors to persuade people to use the company. In a hostage negotiation or domestic intervention, I would ideally be using the perpetrators to convince themselves that they need to change. Because if you as a person of authority seeks to persuade directly, you may fail. It's about getting the person concerned to persuade himself—we call it adventure five. So you would have maybe five issues that you need to tackle, and you will have five reasons for each of those five issues—give them a view that would say "this might be better for you than this option." You might only use one because the first reason you use could be the one that identifies with the person you're talking to, but you have to have more than one or two reasons to fall back on.

The Activist

Will McCallum is head of Oceans and a former political adviser at Greenpeace UK. He is a longtime environmental activist. His most recent campaign was to try to get companies that sell single-use plastic bottles to commit to drastically reducing their plastic footprint.

The main way you persuade someone is by getting his attention, but that can be quite hard, so getting him to speak with you can be the first stage of trying to persuade him. Sometimes we'll do that by emailing people or phoning them up. Sometimes we'll do it by leaving a two and a half-ton concrete statue on their front door. But one way or another, getting their attention is the first step. The next is being really, really clear about what it is you're talking to them about. Instead of having a long old list of stuff that kind of doesn't really make sense or that can be a bit confusing, make sure you're incredibly clear about what it is you want them to do.

The next step is presenting it in a way they understand. Lots of people we're trying to persuade have never heard of the things we're talking to them about. You need to present an issue in language that makes sense to the person you're talking to, whether that's through economic argument or talking about it in brand terms and advertising terms, in the same way that you would alter your message if you were talking to your grandma or to your friend.

It's also important to not assume that the people you're talking to know what you're talking about. Knowing your audience and knowing what resonates with them is not a special skill—anyone can do it. This would be the same for a day-to-day situation, too—like don't assume that your colleagues are fully up on the thing that's stressing you out, so if you snap at them, they're not going to take it all that well. Being clear in your communication is key.


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The Lawyer

Michael Wolkind is a criminal defense lawyer who specializes in serious crime and criminal appeals.

If I have an opponent who's aggressive, I love it, because it's only a matter of time before you put a pin in him and he loses all his air. To be persuasive, it's much better to be horribly reasonable and as charming as possible. But even if you're really nice, you've always got to be in control.

In court, I want the jurors to like me; I want them to believe that what I'm saying is sincere. Your words as well as your body language matters. The jury is watching everything you do. The jurors want to believe in you—it's important that they don't think it's you just projecting your own personality, and that it's genuine and related to the facts. If I have to be extremely harsh on one witness, I will make sure that subtly they notice, on other occasions, I am very nice. So they think the witness deserved it, because look at him now—he's very nice.

It's also important that the people you're trying to persuade are interested in everything that's being said, but that you adapt what you're saying to persuade different audiences. You know whether they're sympathetic by their own body language and gestures. You can't help but see the jury glancing over to a defendant when you say certain things. I did a series of pornography cases for clients who had cinemas and bookshops all over the country about 30 years ago in which I would address London juries with the actual films because they thought they were sophisticated—they were fine and cool with the material. Whereas, outside of London, I'd have to address juries in a different way.

Another tactic of persuasion is to preempt the bad parts of your speech. So in court, I'd preempt the bad parts of a client's character. In some cases, I will make an opening speech where I will talk about his terrible offenses, and by the time the jury actually hears what he is, they're disappointed that it's not several cases of mass murder. Make the concessions early; get the concessions over with and in on your terms—nice and smoothly. Still, the most important method of persuasion is the evidence itself.