What Every “Master of Persuasion” Knows About Human Nature

Imagine getting control of a $5 million motel property on the beach without using any of your own money – and then selling the individual units as condominiums and raking in a profit of well over $1 million.

That’s what one self-made millionaire did. He convinced the owner of that motel in Pompano Beach, Florida to let him take over the property and become “the developer,” without putting in a dime of his own capital. And that’s just a drop in the bucket of deals this man has made by using the power of persuasion.

Whether you want to cut a real estate deal, secure a better job, negotiate a raise, or simply influence your loved ones to take actions that you think will benefit them, you have to know how to persuade people to accept your point of view. And the key to doing that is to understand human nature.

Using the Word “Because”

The first thing you need to understand about human nature is that most people strongly resist doing something that they are told to do. But if they are given a reason for doing it, they are much more receptive … even if the reason they are given isn’t logical.

This strange behavior has been repeatedly demonstrated by scientists. In one study, a sociologist performed an experiment at a university library. When someone was about to use the photocopier, she walked up and said, “Excuse me, may I go ahead of you? I need to make five copies, because I’m in a rush.” When she did this, 94% of the people allowed her to go ahead of them. Then she changed her approach and simply said, “Excuse me, may I go ahead of you?” – without giving a reason. And this time, only 60% allowed her to do it.  You may be thinking, “Okay, that makes sense. When she explained that she was in a rush, people understood the urgency and let her get ahead of them.” But that’s not what was going on here – and the sociologist proved it by redoing the experiment one more time.

This time, she said, “Excuse me, may I go ahead of you? Because I have to make five copies.” And this time, she was allowed to go ahead 93% of the time – even though the reason she gave made no sense. In other words, simply by using the word “because,” she was able to persuade just about the same number of people to let her jump ahead of them in line as when she used the logical reason that she was in a hurry.

This same experiment has been repeated many times with slightly different variations – and always with a similar outcome.

Capitalizing on Assumptions

Another thing you need to be aware of is that people are constantly making instant assumptions that affect their perceptions.

When, for example, you approach your car, you assume there’s a battery in it – unless you have a reason not to. And that’s not the only assumption you automatically make about your car. You assume it has gas in it, that there isn’t a bomb under it, and that your key will fit in the ignition.

We have to make assumptions like these or we wouldn’t be able to function. We simply can’t process and come to a logical conclusion about every single piece of data in our day-to-day lives. (Can you imagine opening up your hood every morning to make sure the battery is still there?)

The point is, people make many automatic assumptions about things that will potentially affect a decision that you’d like to influence.

Let’s say you want to convince a wealthy investor to put money in a new real estate venture that you are putting together. You’ve got to anticipate that he will have certain assumptions – and be prepared to deal with them.

For example, when you suggest having a business meeting, he will almost certainly assume that you are going to ask him to put a substantial amount of money into your project – and he will be planning to tell you that all of his cash is tied up in other investments right now. But if you anticipated he might say that and you did your research, you would be able to persuade him to become your partner by explaining that he wouldn’t actually have to lay out any cash . You would show him that he could make one of his other investment properties work for him a second time by using is as collateral to borrow the money for this new deal at a favorable interest rate. That way, he could buy into your deal without having to liquidate any holdings.

Understanding the Need to Be Thought of as “Consistent”

There’s one more thing about human nature that will help you become a master at the art of persuasion: understanding that nobody wants to be thought of as “wishy-washy.” Having the reputation of being consistent and steadfast is  important to our feeling of self worth.

Going back to our previous example …

If you were pitching this investor, instead of waiting for him to tell you that his money is all tied up and then launching into your proposal, you could begin by asking him a question. Something like this: “If it weren’t for all your money being tied up right now, would you want to invest in this project?” If your proposal is attractive, there is a good chance that the investor will say “yes.”

Then, you pull out your “putting up collateral” option. And since he has already said that if it wasn’t for his cash-flow problem, he’d invest, he will have a very strong desire to not renege on that commitment. The very powerful desire to not be a “flip-flopper” could be enough of a motivation for him to agree to your deal.

People are complicated creatures, filled with deeply embedded instincts and learned behaviors. If you understand what makes them “tick” – and how to capitalize on your insights – you’ll be well on your way to becoming a master of the art of persuasion.

[Ed. Note: Larry Fredericks is an acclaimed entrepreneur with a history of successful business dealings in retail, direct mail, the Internet, and real estate. In addition, he is a nationally published business author and speaker who has recently released his “Master  the Art of Persuasion” course.]