7 Tips for Respectful Persuasion

"The essence of the communication strategy is to recognize that people are very sensitive not only to what your message is, but to how it is communicated, and, perhaps most importantly, to who is transmitting it."

— Emile Short

Today, we return to the tools of persuasion. This is the last instalment in this blog's trilogy on the super yummy tactic case study, Powerful Persuasion: Combating traditional practices that violate human rights, by Emile Short.

Persuasion is an inexhaustible theme in human rights and social change work, because it is such a needed skill. After exploring more in depth the "What" and the "Who" of persuasive communication, we now turn to the "How" in the delivery of your message, especially in face-to-face encounters.

In his case study, Emile Short shows at length how much effort went into setting up respectful encounters that would allow change to really work its way in. As Short says: "It was essential to avoid taking a moral high ground. We could not be too critical, because in the end we knew any change of mind had to be voluntary."

In this spirit, I offer you the following tips for one-on-one persuasion.

How to be respectful AND persuasive

1. Tune in and connect. Use the weather, the environment, any element of communality to create the initial contact. Start with small talk (or rituals, such as those in Ghana). It helps create that tiny bond on which to tie your message.

2. Pace the energy. It's hard to say this without sounding esoteric, but there's an energetic quality to the art of convincing. Adjust yourself to the other person. One trick is to subtly mimic their body position. It creates an unconscious feeling of association.

3. Take in the cues. If the person is smiling and leaning forward, he's showing some interest and you are making progress. Likewise, if she is pulling back or looking away, slow down your spiel. Take the time to pull them back in. Check up on how you are doing. Sprinkle in some questions such as "Does that make sense to you?", "Do you see this also?".

4. Be transparent. Be yourself. You are not peddling junk or selling used cars. You can let the other person know how you feel, your doubts. Let your humanity show through. If you create the opening, you stand a better chance the other will lower their guards.

5. Listen carefully. Most people assume being persuasive is the capacity to hammer your points forcefully. I'd say, not so. Being persuasive actually has a lot to do with shutting your mouth, at times. Hear what the other person is saying, verbally and nonverbally. Persuasion is an exchange.

6. Stay humble. You may be right about some things. You may be wrong about some other things. Recognize you don't have all the answers. Practice humility. Be willing to learn from the interaction.

7. Go, then let go. Give it your best shot, but respect the fact that the other person may indeed have no time (or patience) for you right now. Persuasion is rarely achieved in a single encounter. Picture that person being more open later. Your interaction may have opened a window for the future. Let go and be at peace. You did your best.

Persuasion is not easy. Make sure to practice often. If the other person doesn't come out with a flat, inflexible NO!, that means there's still hope for progress. Someone could even put an an adamant NO and change their mind later. You never know. Anything that creates an opening is a small victory. Celebrate it!

Respectful persuasion is powerful. And so are you.

Philippe Duhamel

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