The Subtle Art of Persuasion and Influence

At the most basic level, influence and persuasion hinge on arousing specific emotions in others.


David Owasi

3 years ago | 6 min read

Persuasion is the art of swaying others and winning them over to your ideas or proposed course of action. People who are persuasive or who have influence are skilled at winning people over and adjusting their presentations to appeal to their audience.

A couple of years ago, I was privileged to be part of an exciting start-up competition called RampUp Weekend Manitoba.

The premise for this competition was simple, about 50 competitors pitched their business ideas to strangers. Competitors then tried to persuade others to join their team and transform their ideas over the weekend of the competition into a live business. Business ideas were then presented to a panel of judges for amazing prizes.

I had a business idea that aimed to tackle the scourge of fake news and bias and was able to pitch my idea to strangers. I ended up putting together a strong team consisting of a lawyer and a couple of software developers to put together a minimum viable product.

Although my team didn’t win the competition, it was a good exercise in using my social skills to influence and persuade others to my cause. I have been able to improve these skills since then and they have been vital to my professional success. It has been responsible for helping me to land amazing opportunities in my career as a consultant, win over new clients, expand my influence as a coach and add strong connections to my network.

Social skills refer to the skills needed to handle and influence other people’s emotions effectively. This may sound like manipulation, but it can actually be as simple as understanding that smiling at people makes them smile back, and can therefore make others feel much more positive.

People adept at influence are able to sense or anticipate their audience’s reaction to their message and are able to use this information to effectively carry everyone along towards an intended goal.

At the most basic level, influence and persuasion hinges on arousing specific emotions in others whether that is respect for your power, generating passion for a project, inspiring teammates to outperform a competitor or generating appropriate outrage over some unfairness.

People adept at influence can sense or anticipate their audience’s reaction to their message and can use this information to effectively carry everyone along towards an intended goal. Individuals with this skill are also able to use strategies like indirect influence to build consensus and can stage dramatic events in the right settings to effectively make a point.

The strategies used by star performers to persuade others include impression management, appeals to reason and facts, dramatic arguments or actions, building coalitions and behind-the-scenes support as well as emphasizing key information. Dramatic actions can often capture the attention and arouse emotion if well done.

“Dramatic” doesn’t necessarily mean having flashy visuals in presentations; sometimes the effect is felt through the most mundane means. For example, an outstanding parts salesman can impress a prospective client by spending the better part of the day using his product to fix a piece of equipment that had been purchased from a competitor.

This dramatic demonstration of customer service can wow a prospect and get their attention.

Star performers know that sometimes a good argument is not enough to win others over. The ability to sense when other tactics are needed to persuade key decision-makers is key to superior performance. It is critical to know when logical arguments are falling flat and when more emotional appeals are needed.

This emotional competence is a hallmark of star performers and is key to building influence.

Mediocre presenters

Without an accurate reading of how your listener is taking in your ideas, your ideas will be in danger of falling on deaf, indifferent or even hostile ears.

Do you find it difficult to connect with others? Do you find it difficult to connect emotionally with your audience? If you do, you will most likely find yourself at the bottom of the influence competency hierarchy. You may mean well but without the right approach, you won’t be able to get your message across.

If you rely too heavily on the persuasive effects of aids such as elaborate overhead projections or elegant statistical analysis of data, you will most likely miss the boat on connecting and influencing your listeners, your audience must be emotionally engaged.

Mediocre presenters rarely go beyond the same dry litany of facts, regardless of how flashily they are displayed or how elegant the PowerPoint presentation is. You have to take into account the emotional temperature of your audience, without an accurate reading of how your listener is taking in your ideas, your ideas will be in danger of falling on deaf, indifferent or even hostile ears.

No matter how intellectually brilliant you may be, that brilliance will fail to shine if you are not persuasive. This is particularly true in fields like engineering, science, medicine or law where entry is mostly based on exam scores and book smart. To get into engineering, law or medicine, you need to be highly adept at solving complex problems. But to make things happen, that’s just not enough, you have to be able to persuade.

What are the signs of weaknesses in persuasion and influence skills?

  1. Failure to build a coalition or get “buy-in”.
  2. Over-reliance on a familiar strategy instead of choosing the best one for the moment.
  3. Stubborn promotion of a point of view or perspective regardless of feedback.
  4. Being ignored or failing to inspire interest.
  5. Negatively impacting those around you.

📷📷Photo by Start Digital on Unsplash

Building Rapport

Empathy is key for wielding influence; it is difficult to have a positive impact on others without first sensing how they feel and understanding things from their point of view. If you are poor at reading emotional cues and incompetent at social interactions, then you are likely to struggle to build influence. The first step in influence is building rapport.

Rapport is a connection or relationship with someone else. It can be considered as a state of harmonious understanding with another individual or group. Building rapport is the process of developing that connection with someone else or a group of people. Sometimes rapport happens naturally and you naturally hit it off or get on well with someone else without having to try. However, rapport can also be built intentionally and consciously developed by finding common ground and practicing empathy.

Creating rapport at the beginning of a conversation with someone new will often make the outcome of the conversation more positive. Persuasion is lubricated by identifying a bond or commonality and taking time to establish one is not a detour but an essential step in persuasion and influence.

How can you build rapport?

  1. Use non-threatening and safe topics for initial small talks. Talk about established shared experiences like the weather, how you travelled to where you are, things you can both observe in your surroundings. Avoid talking too much about yourself and avoid asking direct questions about the other person.
  2. Actively listen to what the other person is saying and look for shared experiences or circumstances. This will provide you with more things to talk about in the initial stages of communication.
  3. Try to inject an element of humour. Laughing together creates rapport and goodwill, be open to making a joke about yourself or the situation you are in. You however want to avoid making jokes about other people.
  4. Be conscious of your body language and other non-verbal signals you are sending. Try to maintain eye contact and adopt an open body shape. Don’t cross your arms or legs, relax and lean slightly towards who you are speaking to, to indicate listening, mirror their body language if appropriate.
  5. Show empathy. Try to put yourself in their shoes and demonstrate your intention to see things from the other person’s point of view. Rapport is all about finding similarities and being on the same wavelength of someone else.

Charm and social polish in themselves do not add up to competence at influence and persuasion. Social skills in the service of oneself, and to the detriment of the group as a whole, is sooner or later recognized as a front and a charade.

True influence as a positive competence is very different from an obsessive drive for personal success at all costs and should be in harmony with the collective goal, rather than exclusively for selfish desires. True influencers do not pursue their own status, prestige or gain at the expense of others.


Created by

David Owasi

I am a business owner, consultant and creative entrepreneur. I bring a lot of energy, passion and optimism to any project I am involved in. I drive to maximize my talents and potentials alongside those I work with. I bring a wealth of business ownership and coaching experience.







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