As an FBI counterintelligence agent, I frequently needed to persuade others that it was in their best interests to cooperate with the FBI. My job was to recruit the spy to work for the U.S.
In essence, I asked them to betray their country. Needless to say, I took copious notes when this topic was taught at the FBI Academy.
When we persuade others, we are appealing to their logic or emotions, not trying to prove them wrong; instead, we are trying to open their mind up to something new or different.
As a leader, entrepreneur, or business owner, you are looking to recruit employees, customers, or investors to buy into your solution or idea. To be successful, you need more than a title or position to persuade others to accept your agenda.
Much like recruiting foreign spies to work with the U.S. Government, persuasion is more of an art than a science. There is no one equation that will produce predictable results because people are unique.
Nonetheless, here are 4 reliable approaches to persuade others:
1. START WITH OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONS
The first step in any recruitment process is to ask open-ended questions of the person you aim to recruit so you gain a better perspective of their thought process. Otherwise, you have no idea of what truly matters to them or what will push their emotional panic button.
Asking open-ended questions encourages people to give you long form answers instead of simple Yes or No response. And this is where the buy-in begins—rather than being told what to do, they are providing at least part of the solution.
You may already know the answer you need—without input from others. But just by asking their opinion, you give people a sense of ownership of where the idea is going.
Tip: Ask the right kind of questions so the answers help people to persuade themselves to come around to your way of thinking.
2. FOLLOW UP WITH SMALL STEPS
If I walked up to a spy and simply asked them to work for the FBI, a huge barrier would instantly spring up between us. Small steps were the secret sauce I used because each step was so small that the spies were not alerted to the changes in their environment. The best way to persuade others is by presenting a message that is gradual, intentional, consistent, and not intimidating.
Small steps does not mean you move slowly—you can still move very quickly, but by taking small steps instead of giant leaps when you’re trying to persuade others, you have time to gage emotional reactions before you press forward.
Slower moves can also be smarter ones because they give you the opportunity to take the problem by the “soft handle”—by the approach that is easiest to grasp as you’re looking right at it. This allows you to reduce the element of uncertainty as much as possible.
Tip: Recruitment and persuasion follow the same principles as a seduction. Take the time to interpret what is going on with the other person. Remember, you are looking for ways to appeal to their logic or emotions.
3. MAINTAIN A NIMBLE MINDSET
Arrest plans follow a set protocol and can be adapted to almost every situation; however, the plan is always flexible enough to be changed or tweaked if needed as new information becomes available.
Objections to your idea may be unavoidable, but your approach to them can be strategic if you continually re-evaluate your situation so you can change your game plan.
To persuade others, you want them to be able to answer this question: What’s in it for me? You’ve asked the open-ended questions and followed up with small steps, but the answer to this question is the great unknown. You may think you know what the answer will be, but be prepared to pivot and come at it from another angle if need be.
Tip: Look at the objection like an opponent—it needs to be brought down and attacked from a variety of angles, some of which will not make themselves known until you are closer to the person.
4. THROW OUT AN EXTREME SUGGESTION
Igor’s wife had been caught shoplifting and since foreign diplomats (and spouses) have immunity, she could not be arrested. I could make it extremely embarrassing for him, however, by reporting the incident to the Consulate’s Security Officer. Most likely, Igor would be sent back home in shame and his career ended.
When I met Igor in the department store where he had been detained with his wife, he was shaking with fear that I was going to ask him to betray his country in return for not reporting him to the security officer. I let him go on thinking this was my objective for quite a while.
Little beads of perspiration burst on his bald head as he waited for my next move. He pulled a grayed handkerchief from his back pocket and wiped his brow. I sat across from him and started asking about his grandchildren. He spoke good enough English that we had a nice little conversation.
And then I offered him a sum of money right then and there to answer a few questions about some individuals we had reason to believe he knew quite well. Nothing too intrusive, but important information for us.
His relief was palpable. He gave me the answers and we never saw each other again.
My extreme suggestion that he would be asked to betray his country jolted Igor out of the complacency of his established way of thinking. The result is that his attitude shifted when I offered him a desirable alternative. This is a technique used with great success by retailers, ex-spouses, and terrorists.
The following letter is a perfect example of how extreme suggestions can work in the way we go about changing people’s minds:
Dear Mom and Dad,
Since I left for college, many things have happened. I apologize for not writing sooner, but you’ve been in my thoughts. Please, do not cry until you’ve read my entire letter but you had better prepare yourself by sitting down.
First, my jail sentence went by faster than I expected. The food wasn’t that bad, really, and I felt lucky that I lost only 50 pounds. Being female, I didn’t know what to expect but my cellmate was a businesswoman named Sugar and she’s offered me a regular job with her escort service. She assures me that I’ll be escorting very nice gentlemen to innocent parties and not to worry about the nasty rumors. I’m not sure what she means, but she says she’s got a great lawyer.
While in jail I met the man of my dreams. He’s out on parole now and we’ve found a wonderful little cubbyhole under the Golden Gate Bridge to live in until he finds a proper job. He’s an enterprising young man and I know you’ll like him. For example, he’s up and going through the trash bins before anyone else in the area! Yes, I’m homeless right now and although my boyfriend thinks I should take up Sugar’s offer on employment, I’m worried that my pregnancy will not make me a desirable escort.
Yes, I’m going to have a baby! And as soon as my boyfriend’s infection clears up, we’ll get our blood tests and have a real wedding. I know you’ll welcome him with open arms and perhaps even help him find a job. You should also know that although he never graduated from high school, he has high ambitions.
Now that you have all the news worth telling, I want to tell you that I didn’t get arrested, I didn’t lose 50 pounds, I’m not thinking of going to work for Sugar, I didn’t meet a boyfriend in jail, I’m not homeless, and I’m not pregnant. I am, however, getting a D in economics, which wouldn’t be so bad but it is, unfortunately, my major. I wanted you to see this in proper perspective.
Your loving daughter, Lori
Yes, there are times when the middle ground can seem like a gift from heaven.
Tip: The most persuasive speech can often be one that introduces an idea that is initially so shocking that we welcome “middle ground” as a desirable alternative.