Strategic Librarian

Using strategy to develop the law firm library.

Using the Art of Persuasion

I was interested in receiving notice of an posting on BNET Insights (July 7 2008) titled:  More Lessons in Persuasion: Using “the Power of Because” by Jessica Stillman.  She refers to a Behavioral Scientist Ellen Langer who worked with others to conduct experiments “which involved someone trying to cut in line to use a photo copier”.  It seemed that someone providing a reason followed by the word “because” usually was allowed to cut in line.  She concluded that the research suggests this technique works in persuading others.

I’m not sure she is correct in most cases although I do have an example where I asked for a favor using the technique.  I was late in arriving at the airport (it tends to be how I operate).  Usually I get to the gate to be one of the lasts that boards the aircraft.  It is a habit that has come back to bite me at least once.  The day I am going to relate was one of those days except I was pretty sure I wouldn’t make through security in time.

To remedy this I used my loudest voice and said “I need to jump ahead in line because I will miss my plane if I have to wait” to the other people waiting in line.   I got a few a comments like, “Hey, we are all late” or “Not my problem” but one person allowed me to move ahead of them bringing me nearer to the front of the line.  After that, another person ahead of me told me to move ahead of them, and another, and another until I was at the front of the line.  Once my credentials were checked by security, I turned around and gave a sincere thank you to that line of strangers.  It made my day!

I think the word “because” had little to do with how I got through security.  Most likely, the way I pleaded my case with nervousness and angst sent a stronger message to the one person who felt moved by it.  Then others in the group took heart and gave me assistance.  There had to be someone in the crowd who valued being kind to strangers with the others deciding to model his behavior.  To me persuasion is more about speaking to peoples values and needs to move them to action.  It is very personal and different for each person on the other end of a persuasive argument.

I learned to think of persuasion in this way in a business school MBA class, where I spent a whole semester learning how to be persuasive.  A semester may seem like a long time to spend on this topic but it was very good from beginning to end. 

When I read the posting mentioned above, I remembered that the professor for my class wrote a book called “The Art of Persuasion”.  Since I apparently lost the book and can no longer remember his name I decided to do some searching on the web to see if I could find it again.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do so.  Instead I found of number of books on that discuss persuasion in relation to sales.   While some of the books look good, others focus more on topics like:

  • Reciprocation
  • Commitment & Consistency
  • Social Proof
  • Authority
  • Liking
  • Scarcity
  • Establish credibility
  • Lead by example
  • Play Matlock – this is one of the strangest suggestions I found.  It means – play dumber than you are.

See the Wikipedia entry on the Principles of Persuasion for descriptions of some of the topics.

There are some very interesting articles and books that focus persuasion efforts on learning about the individual(s) you want to persuade (their goals, values, needs, etc.) and presenting your ideas in a format that resonates with them. 

Susan Cramm, The Art of Persuasion,, July 2005

The Art of Woo’: Selling Your Ideas to the Entire Organization, One Person at a Time (book review), Knowledge@Wharton, October 17, 2007.  Amazon Link to learn more about the book.

Robert Cialdini, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Collins Business, 2006

Jay A. Conger, The Necessary Art of Persuasion, HBR OnPoint, May-June 1998. Amazon Link to a digital copy of the article.

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