The art of persuasion

Aristotle articulated the concept of persuasion more than 2000 years ago. He appreciated that no matter how knowledgeable or skilled someone is, it does them little good if they cannot convince others of their viewpoint.

And wouldn’t we all like to be better at getting others to see things the way we see them, which ultimately helps us achieve our goals? It seems that arguing a point is rarely as effective as winning people over. We know that emotions can play a bigger role than facts in guiding decision making, so tapping into your emotional intelligence is essential if you want to be persuasive.

You are likely aware that IQ (intelligent quotient) is a measure of our cognitive capacity for things such as verbal comprehension, spatial and reasoning abilities and working memory.

But in the 1990s the term emotional intelligence (EQ), was coined and has since become a widely recognised element of both personal and professional development. It simply means having the ability to notice your own and other’s emotions, understand them, and be able to manage them. EQ allows us to connect with and understand others on a deeper level. There are some key indicators.

  • Self-Awareness — This is the ability to recognise your own emotions, especially in the moment when they arise, which is often the easiest time to get swept away by them. Being emotionally self-aware allows you to diffuse strong emotions long enough to realise why they are happening and enable you to address them with mindful balance.
  • Adaptability — Recent times have been a harsh reminder that life is fluid and can change suddenly, leaving us feeling frustrated and unsure of how to move forward. The ability to adjust to new conditions can help you tackle whatever comes your way.
  • Conflict Management — Whether at work, at home, or out in public, conflicts are inevitable, and being in their midst without getting sucked in — or better yet, being able to step in and lower tensions — is a useful skill. A key to remember is that unregulated and heightened emotions can fuel arguments, and need to be de-escalated to make headway.
  • Empathy — This is the ability to see from the perspective of others and respond naturally to their feelings, which can help us form deep and nurturing relationships. This requires active listening where we’re not partially attending or just formulating our response while the other person is talking, but truly hearing them and mirroring back to them what we hear as evidence.

In his book Never Split the Difference, former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss takes these concepts one step further and refers to “tactical empathy” — taking an inventory of the other person’s perspective and calmly describing it back to them. Voss maintains that people want to be understood and accepted, and through active listening and empathy, we make a connection that leads to less defensive and oppositional positions, paving the way for resolution.

Whatever forum in which you want to enhance your persuasive skills — whether it’s negotiating a pay rise at work or settling who does the washing at home — incorporating genuineness, attention, empathy and listening is a good place to start.

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