What You Must Understand About People If You Want To Be Persuasive

Two men talking at a table

Aren’t people funny?

They’re quirky. They’re odd. It’s difficult to understand what they do or how they act.

Well, that’s not fair…

You see, people are not strange at all. There’s nothing weird about them. Like the rest of us, they are emotional, irrational people trying to do their best with what they have.

So, when you’re trying to persuade people, try not to judge them. Try to understand them instead.

As communicators, our job is to understand our fellow humans. To achieve this, we must first lose our egos and develop empathy for the people we serve. We can do our job only if we value their worldviews as much as ours.

By spending time with the people you’re communicating with, you are guaranteed to succeed. 

If you want to influence and persuade people, then there are three things you need to know about them:

  1. What they Believe
  2. What they Value
  3. Whom they Trust

You will be a more successful communicator when you understand these three things. 

Let me explain…

Ignore your assumptions

To begin, you must not make any assumptions. It’s not easy. Assumptions are called that because you don’t realize you have them!

Assumptions get in the way. They affect your thinking, your understanding, and the actions you take. Leave your assumptions at the door and jump into your audience research lab. 

Be all scientific about it

With your assumptions gone, you must act like a scientist. In this case, a social scientist. 

Even if you don’t have a Psychology or Sociology degree, your audience research must be as thorough as possible. Consider your research an experiment of some sort. Be disciplined in how you approach your research. Generate hypotheses. Recruit the right sort of people and keep your sample sizes representative and so on. 

With your scientist hat on – do scientists wear hats? – you can now work with the people you’re interested in. Remember, you are trying to uncover…

1. What They Believe

How do these people see the world? How do they think it works?

What stories do they tell themselves about how you get on in life? Do they think life is fair or unfair? Is the world full of opportunities or are they crushed by life’s challenges? 

What you’re trying to do is to generate a description of their mental models about the world. How they understand the world and how they describe it is what you’re after.

This won’t be a simple or easy task because our mental models about the world are vast. Therefore, your description of your audience’s beliefs will scratch the surface. Nevertheless, gathering these insights is vital. 

2. What They Value

This information often comes up when exploring their belief systems (above). Indeed, the two overlap. 

What you’re trying to do here is work out what people think is essential in life. And, by definition, what they think is not.

Human beings have values we all share. For example, we tend to value family over strangers. We value ‘belonging’ to someone, something and somewhere. 

We value our health. We value our freedom and the opportunity to live our lives as we wish. 

What you’re trying to do then, is understand relative values. Some people will value education more than others. Some will value a sense of independence. Others have a sense of security. And some will value things that will make your head spin!

What people value will vary across cultures and life stages. For example, some people will value their religious identity more than others. Older people may appreciate solitude more than younger people, perhaps. 

Of course, there will always be individual differences. We shouldn’t stereotype people, either. The world would be a boring place if we were all the same! You’re trying to capture a broad sense of what people value. 

3. Whom They Trust

This is always interesting. 

Research suggests that people trust experts and organisations less than ever. There’s also been a decline in trust of media. No one, it seems, trusts anyone anymore. What a shame. 

Yet people still place their trust in others.

They trust their family. They trust their friends. They tend to trust health professionals and those who care for them. And while they don’t trust politicians, there are often political and other high-profile characters – both at the local and national level – whom people trust

When I conducted this research, I found that you have to dig deep to discover whom people trust. You need to deliberately ask whom they trust and why.

Your target audiences will not usually think about this before. They will probably scoff at the idea that they trust anyone except themselves. But ask them anyway.

How do you conduct this research?

There are many ways you can find all this out. They include techniques such as face-to-face interviews, focus groups, online surveys, etc. 

You can also conduct ethnographic research. This is where you spend time with people in their ‘natural’ environments and observe what they say and do. 

You can also gather useful information from the web. This type of data can be collected from online discussion forums, social media sites and ratings and review platforms e.g. TripAdvisor or Amazon. 

What to do with this research? 

If you take even the smallest steps in this direction and genuinely try to understand what people believe, what they value and whom they trust, you’ll be better off. 

Most businesses and organisations rarely, if ever, conduct this research. They pump out messages in the vain hope something will stick aka. ‘mud at a wall’. 

Having even the slightest inkling of this information, you’ll become an Influence Ninja! You will be better placed to develop effective messages and marketing communications. This is because you know with certainty what to say, how, and who to say it for you. 

The ethical bit

It should go without saying – but I’m going to say it anyway – all of this should be done ethically.

Everyone you speak with should know what you’re trying to do and why. And when you apply your research findings, you should again do so with the highest moral standards. 

Because, in the end, all that we professional persuaders are doing is explaining. 

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