5 Clever Ways to Convince Someone (Without Being Dishonest)

Aja Frost
Aja Frost



Some people call George C. Parker the most convincing American who ever lived. Once or twice a week for several years, Parker convinced people he owned the Brooklyn Bridge. After they believed him, he’d sell it to them. His buyers would usually discover the swindle when police arrested them for putting on toll barriers on “their” bridge.

While Parker definitely isn't a good role model when it comes to honesty, there's no doubt he knew how to bring others around to his point of view. Once you know exactly how to convince someone (the right way), you'll be a better salesperson, entrepreneur, and/or professional.

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1) Give them a chance to explain

When was the last time someone convinced you by verbally bulldozing you? Probably never. Even if you submit on the surface, in your head you're still clinging to your beliefs. And you're irritated and resentful of the other person, to boot.

The opposite approach is far more effective: Listen respectfully to the other person. In fact, let them go first. As soon as you decide you want to convince them, say, "I'd love to get your thoughts on X. Would you please share them with me?" 

Here are a few alternatives:

  • "I know you'll have some well-thought-out opinions on Y. Are you open to discussing them?"
  • "This sounds like a topic you feel strongly about. It would be great to hear your reasoning."
  • "Could you please walk me through your thought process?"
  • "Let's talk about Z. Please, tell me what you think."

2) Match their reasoning

Turns out, “fight fire with fire” is a smart persuasion technique. Research proves that using the same type of reasoning as the person you’re trying to persuade is much more effective than using a different one.

So if the other person is being logical, use logic too. If, on the other hand, they’re making decisions based on their emotions, sway them with an emotional argument.

Let’s say you’re talking to a prospect who’s unsure about changing suppliers. They’ve worked with their current one for 10 years and really like them.

Because they’re using emotional reasoning, don’t lead with a logical argument like, “Switching to our product will cut your manufacturing time by 10%.” It’s probably not going to resonate.

Instead say, “I completely understand. We really try to provide that same level of support and trust to all of our customers. In fact, during your first year, we provide a second account manager at no extra cost to make sure your transition is as smooth as possible and you feel secure.”

Not sure how to differentiate between different arguments types? Pay attention to which words the other person is using.

Logical reasoning words

  • Analyze
  • Calculate
  • Conclude
  • Compel
  • Determine
  • Discover
  • Find
  • Gauge
  • Hypothesize
  • Predict
  • Reveal
  • Think
  • Validate
  • Verify

Emotional reasoning words

  • Believe
  • Feel
  • Guess
  • Imagine
  • Intuit
  • Suppose
  • Suspect

3) Compliment their thought process

Next time a prospect says something you agree with, reply, “It sounds like you’ve put some thought into this.”

According to a study published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, “Individuals who were led to believe that they had thought a lot about a two-sided message felt more certain about the resulting attitude than people who were led to believe that they had thought only a little about the same message.” In other words, if you make prospects think they’ve spent some time coming to a belief, they’re far likelier to hold on to it.

What would that look like in practice? Imagine the prospect says, “Since we’re expected to grow 150% in the next year, the flexibility of your software is really appealing.”

With this trick up your sleeve, you’d respond, “It seems like you’ve really thought about what you’ll need as you scale.”

Now, validated in their thinking, they’ll be even more convinced your product is a good fit.

Looking for other options? Try:

  • "You make some great points."
  • "You've definitely given me a lot to mull over."
  • "I'm impressed by your reasoning."
  • "I wish more people had your ability to consider both sides of the topic."

4) Present the counter-argument

Not only should you be prepared for any counter-arguments the other person brings up, you might even consider bringing up the counter-arguments for them.

It may sound crazy. However, a meta-analysis of 107 studies with a total of 20,111 participants showed that, across the board, two-sided arguments are more persuasive than one-sided ones.

The key is to refute the counter-argument after you’ve raised it -- otherwise this approach doesn’t work.

For example, you could tell the prospect, “Our accounting software doesn’t enable users to give clients their own accounts. I know that’s a feature you’re interested in.”

Laying your cards on the table immediately makes you more credible. But you don’t want to leave any potential issues unaddressed, so follow up with: “We chose to offer automatic, recurring billing instead -- once you’ve set it up, you never have to worry about payments again. Plus, clients can view their invoices in their email without the hassle of logging into a whole new platform.”

Because you’ve gained the prospect’s trust, this explanation will be more impactful than if you’d waited for them to bring up the issue.

You can even introduce a point you don't think they would have brought up on their own. Again, this sounds counter-productive -- but it will boost your trustworthiness and make you seem more convincing, assuming you successfully dismantle the counter-argument.

To illustrate, you might say, "You might be thinking about safety. Many customers are, in the beginning. Is that something on your mind?"

Once they say yes (they'll almost always say yes, because they don't want to seem uninformed or careless), you'd respond, "It's a very valid concern. The Consumer Protection Agency has actually found our product makes your home more safe, because ... "

Ultimately, setting up arguments before knocking them down will make you far more convincing.

5) Be Clear and Direct

My brother -- who’s a philosopher -- once handed me an extremely dense text on the Münchhausen trilemma, telling me it would change my life.

A month later, he asked what I’d thought. I said, “Honestly, I couldn’t understand more than 10 words in a row.”

The takeaway: The strength of your argument doesn’t matter if your audience can’t understand it.

And this holds true whether you’re talking about a complex psychological theory or how your product works. It might be tempting to fill your explanations with five-dollar words, jargon, and industry buzzwords, but you’ll only confuse your prospects -- and ultimately lose the deal.

With that in mind, speak as plainly you can. For example:

  • Wrong: “We’ve developed a real-time pipeline that ingests the full Twitter stream, then cleanses, transforms, and performs sentiment and multi-dimensional analysis of the Tweets that were related to campaign and finally delivers a valuable real-time decision making platform.”
  • Right: “Our tool grabs the data from Twitter accounts, analyzes it, and puts the relevant information in an easy-to-use dashboard. It updates in real time, so you’ll always be making the most informed decision possible.”

It’s clear which statement is more convincing: The second one.

When you're unsure whether you're being direct enough, pretend you're speaking to a fifth-grader. This strategy will help you choose clear, comprehensible language and examples.

Now that you know these science-backed persuasion secrets, moving your prospect’s hearts and minds should be a little easier. But make sure to use your powers for good, not evil -- in other words, don’t sell any bridges.

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