The Realistic Key to Your Persuasive Power (And Fighting Over Popcorn)

There is so much talk about the newest and slickest techniques in persuasion that some of the most basic, time-tested and powerful rules are often forgotten (or never even learned). I’m not talking about the kind of stuff you learn in a course on secret language patterns. I’m talking about the core principles that fathers tell their sons, the stuff an old Chinese man probably wrote down a few thousand years ago.

Recently I was reminded of the most crucial key to winning at persuasion.

Despite repeated attempts, I’ve yet to make it into a cinema without buying popcorn. Going to see the film Inception a few weeks ago was no exception.

One small please?” I requested.

We only have medium and large containers left,” replied the twenty-something guy behind the counter.

That’s OK…” I say glancing up at the menu displaying “Small £3.75” and “Medium £4.25” “…I’ll have a small popcorn inside of a medium container.”

He stood there dazed for a few seconds.

In the persuasion context, we would call this an incongruence or pattern interrupt. By saying something unexpected while he was in his routine, I had knocked his cognition slightly off-line and opened a window of opportunity to give him further suggestions. But I missed it and the window shut again.

He started shaking his head.His boss had probably told him that since there were no small containers left, to just up-sell everyone to a medium popcorn. Discussing the topic would have likely resulted in knee-jerk resistance, I decided to keep things moving along.

Yep, that’s OK,” I said knowing he’d take this as meaning I was willing to pay full-price for a medium.

He filled the medium container to the brim and just as he was about to press the button on the till I blurted out “£3.75, right”?

Shaking his head, he came back to the counter and explained the situation again, but I played dumb.

Oh, I thought you said you would just put a small amount of popcorn in the medium container?”

My thinking was that if continued with the transaction, that I could then interrupt him and utilising soft deception assert he misunderstood me, rendering a bit of guilt on his part and tipping the scale slightly in my favour.

He was still a step ahead of me and this didn’t work either.

This was a sloppy persuasion approach and it is not surprising that it failed.

Things came to a head. We were stuck in a“Yes” vs “No” battle.

£3.75 for a small in the medium container.”I requested again.

No, I can’t.”

Yes, you can.”

No, I can’t.”

Yes, you can. It’s all right,” I insisted, slightly nodding like an idiot as if there was any hope left for subconscious, non-verbal influence.

Anyone overhearing our conversation would have thought I was wasting my time. My persuasion attempts had all failed and verbally it was going nowhere.

But it wasn’t about the popcorn any more. (It’s not always about the popcorn.)

We’d locked horns. It was about the game. I wanted to win.

And more importantly….I could see cracks forming in his emotional armour.

A shift in posture away from me showed his discomfort.

A quick flinch back towards the popcorn door showed he considered giving in.

He was inching closer and closer to the edge.

Just put the small popcorn in the medium container and I will pay you £3.75” I say with a smile and a downward, commanding and friendly tone.

JACKPOT! Sort of….

He emptied some popcorn back into the bin…and then some more…and then too much!

I knew if I had asked him at that point to put some back, it could have ruined my progress, so once again I let him continue.

I can’t say I was psychologically ahead of him at that point, but at least we were in stride.

Thank you,” I said handing over my debit card.

When the transaction was finished, following on with our pattern of compliance, I asked “Thank you very much and there is usually more than that in a small right? So could I have a bit more please?”

Half-defeated, half-happily, he took my medium container and shovelled a bunch more popcorn into it.

By the skin of my teeth…. or was that a popcorn kernel?

Persuasion is messy.

Your influence skills won’t always work. Situations where you need to be persuasive sneak up on you quickly. There is no way for you to be on top of your game all of the time.

When things do come to a head and your outcome has become the spotlight of the conversation, straight-up, in-your-face, hard-nosed insisting may be your only realistic option.

Insisting is best used when you have a sense the other person is considering giving in.

However, resorting to ugly “insisting” is not what this post is about. Being insistent is not where the true power lies.

The realistic key to your persuasive power is in being persistent.

Whether you’re overtly insisting or covertly influencing, persistence must be the undercurrent of your persuasion. Persistence leads to success.

I’ve seen it in business countless times. Especially in buying and selling.

A negotiation is rarely battle of wits, but a battle of will.

By being persistent, you are applying psychological pressure in order to break down the other person and you will succeed as soon as this pressure is stronger than the resistance they have to accepting your outcome.

When have you given in too early? As soon as someone says no, or maybe if it just seems like they might say no, do you give up?

By giving up, you not only fail to persuade, but you persuade yourself to fail.

Each time you give up, you teach yourself to respond that way again in the future. You teach yourself to NOT be persistent!

So you need to flip this around. And you will do it through intention.

Set your intention to be a more persistent persuader.

This is not to be confused with being a more insistent persuader. Insisting is to be avoided except as a very last resort!

If you want to be more persuasive, then BE MORE PERSISTENT.

If you are a persistent persuader – even if all of your persuasion skills fly out the window – you are still very likely to get what you want.


What do you think about persistence in persuasion?

Where in your life would being more persistent get you more of what you want?

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