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Persuasiveness is a mind game.

When we think of persuasiveness we usually think of negotiators or salesmen, or maybe statesmen or evangelists, capable of just opening their mouths and suddenly convincing everybody around them that they are right.

As so often with the human race, we’re mistaking the outcome for the product. That’s not persuasiveness, that’s persuasiveness in action. That’s the fruit of persuasiveness.

Persuasiveness is a mind game.

This is not a brainwave of mine. We all know it’s true, if we break it down.

We want to convince people.

People aren’t always convinced when we speak.

Why aren’t people automatically convinced?

Because they have a mental block in their head which disagrees with what you said.

To convince them, you need to bypass this mental block.

Convincing people is all about noticing and bypassing the mental blocks which prevent them from agreeing with you.

Persuasiveness is a mind game.

How do you play this mind game? I have to admit that I’m not very good at it. My first problem is that when I try to convince people, I use the first argument that pops into my head- which is naturally the argument I find most convincingly. The mental blocks in my head are not the same mental blocks in other people’s minds, so obviously the same argument is not going to work on both of us. But I don’t realise this, and I keep on using the same old ineffective argument that doesn’t get around the roadblocks in their head. In fact that’s what it becomes- an argument, where we both keep saying the same thing because neither of us is finding new arguments that would actually work.

My second problem is that even if I realised I had to forge a new argument for new mental blocks, I would have to think really fast on my feet to even notice what those mental blocks are, and to brainstorm mid-discussion arguments that answer those mental blocks. It takes practice to think on your feet so quickly, and it’s hard to get that practice if I don’t even notice that I need to practice.

There are ways to train your brain and your tongue to play the game though. The first thing I need to change is my attitude. I love debating. I love the cut and thrust as we try to topple each other’s arguments. Unfortunately, most people don’t see it this way. They feel it’s an argument, and nobody enjoys an argument. The problem for me is that if I go out looking for a debate, my mind is in a state of combativeness. A combative mind is not ready to think of new approaches that can bypass the mental blocks in someone else’s mind because it’s having too much fun bulldozing their current argument.

In short, I have to change my objective. I don’t want to win the game and knock over their argument, I want to a) understand the other person and b) convince them.

By changing my objectives, I then change my methods. If I want to understand the other person, then I will actually stop to understand what they’re thinking. I will slow down and notice the roadblocks they are throwing in front of my argument. That solves my first problem- that I’m not aware of the need to change tack.

If my objective is to convince the other person, then I would be prepared to discard the arguments that I like and I find convincing, in favour of the arguments that actually convince the other person. The arguments I have to use might not be as spectacular or as fun as my favourite reasons, but they get the job done. And when you’re out to convince people, it’s more important to you to get the job done than to have fun doing it. And honestly, walking away understanding the other person and maybe helping change their mind is a lot more fun than shouting matches.