Persuasion might seem like magic, but get down to the heart of the matter and what you’re really doing is selling someone on an idea.
Sell it well, and you can change their behaviour.
Daniel Pink knows a thing or two about selling well. He’s a renowned persuasion expert and the author of “To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others.” The beauty of persuasion, Pink argues, is that we can all do it better — we just need to know more about who we’re trying to persuade.
In a recent video from Big Think, Pink offers two irrational questions that can get people out of a stubborn, negative mindset and into one that considers an alternate point of view.
It draws on the theory of “motivational interviewing,” in which the persuader gets the subject to articulate why they are resistant on their own. In doing so, they can see the virtue in other opinions and change their behaviour accordingly.
Here are the questions Pink serves up:
1. On a scale of 1-10, how ready are you to do X?
Pink uses the example of a 15-year-old girl named Maria. Maria’s parents want her to clean her room, but she’s not a fan of the idea.
The first question Maria’s parents should ask their daughter is “Maria, on a scale of one to ten, how ready are you to clean your room?”
Her answer won’t be a 9 or 10. It will be low — maybe a 2, Pink says. Normally, that would cause parents to fly into a fit of frustration. But that’s where the clever second question comes in…
2. Why didn’t you pick a lower number?
If Maria says she is a 2, asking why she isn’t a 1 forces her to state the reasons she should be cleaning her room, Pink says. Maybe she recognises that she’s 15 and needs to get her act together, or that having a messy room slows down her morning routine.
“With that second question…Maria begins articulating her own reasons for doing something, and this is really axiomatic in sales and persuasion,” Pink says. “When people have their own reasons for doing something — not your — they believe those reasons more deeply and adhere to the behaviour more strongly.”
Say Maria is totally unprepared to clean her room. She says she is a 1, the lowest of the low. What then?
In that case, Pink says, “Here’s what you say to Maria: ‘Maria, what can do we to make you a two?'”
Asking her to increase her readiness by the smallest of margins shifts the immediate goal. Instead of having to clean her entire room, now she just has to go from 1 to 2. This produces less resistance and can actually move her toward behavioural change.
“Usually when people are a one,” Pink explains, “it’s not because they’re purely obstinate. It’s because there’s some kind of environmental obstacle in front of them.”
Maria’s parents might need to help her for a few minutes or lighten her chore load. In other aspects of life, Pink says, getting people on your side begins with changing the momentum ever so slowly.
“We tend to think that persuasion is something one person does to another, and what the social science tells us very clearly is that it’s really something people for themselves,” says Pink. “Your job as a persuader is to reset the context and surface people’s own reasons for doing something, because it works a lot better.”
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