The Secret To Persuasion is Compliments and Complements
I nervously sat directly across from a tall bearded man wearing a sweater-vest and a blue and white striped tie. He was thumbing through a thick, black folder trying to figure out who in the world the candidate was sitting on the other side of the table. It was a morning interview and he was a bit disheveled. He looked annoyed at having to interview me rather than dealing with the increasingly tall pile of work on his desk. I knew this because he said as much when we were introduced. I got the impression he wasn’t very impressed with me. It was going to be a tough interview.
I was at the beginning of my journey into learning the science of decision making and persuasion. Rather than throwing in the towel, I accepted the challenge of winning this guy over. What better situation to test some of the influence techniques I had recently read about than a job interview where the interviewer didn’t like me?
My first move was to establish myself as nonthreatening and friendly; so, I utilized a few body language techniques. I was seated directly across from the interviewer (I’ll call him Fred). Thankfully, I had learned that facing someone with your shoulders parallel is an aggressive body position, so I turned my body slightly away from Fred. I also uncrossed my arms and legs to display open posture. I found every opportunity to smile and when I gave hand gestures, I used open palms facing up. Open, friendly, nonthreatening. Within minutes, his body language began to mirror mine. A good sign.
My next move was to initiate the persuasion tactics of complements and compliments. By complements, I mean complementary, as in we are harmonious or compatible… we are alike in some way. Within the first few questions we learned that we were avid baseball fans and had both played adult-league baseball. That little fact established similarity. And because our common interest in baseball was also a passion, our bond was tight. The technique of identifying similarities leverages the concept of in-group bias, where we favor people in our own group. Fred and I were in the same special group, we were adult baseball players.
Believe it or not, we are all members of a particular group. If you ask enough questions, you will eventually discover a commonality.
Then I paid Fred a compliment, meaning an expression of praise. He mentioned that he was a pitcher on his baseball team, so I told him how much I admired the guys in our league who could still pitch effectively. I had never even seen him pitch, but it didn’t really matter. Elbow and shoulder problems eventually sideline pitchers. We were both well past our athletic prime. The mere fact that he was still out there pitching was a feat unto itself. I was truly impressed and let him know it.
Compliments are powerful tools of persuasion. They are music to our ears, even when they are not true. The reason why compliments are so effective is because it is an indication that the person paying us the compliment likes us. And we tend to trust people who like us because we feel as if they have our best interest in mind.
The key is to compliment a decision or an action, rather than something “God-given.” Complimenting someone’s hairstyle is better than complimenting his or her hair because one’s hairstyle is a choice, while simply having “good” hair is genetic (aka lucky). Fred took care of himself. He kept his body in good condition, took care of his arm and learned the proper throwing-motion form in order to avoid injury. In essence, he was able to continue pitching because he made smart choices. Of course, good genes had something to do with his long-lasting health, but there was no need to point that out.
Once rapport was established, we simply talked. Actually, he talked. I asked questions and listened to his answers. Our “interview” lasted so long I missed the next scheduled interview of the day. At the conclusion of our time together, he apologized for monopolizing the discussion. Then he introduced me around the office as if I were an old friend.
I had officially turned the naysayer into an ally with just a few persuasion techniques.
After another full day of interviews, they offered me the position. I wound up taking another job, one that was a better fit for my long-term career aspirations, but I’ll never forget that interview. It was the first time that I purposely and thoughtfully used the persuasion techniques that I had learned to influence another human being. Had they not worked, I might have given up on my studies of decision making and persuasion.
I spent years learning the psychology and science of decision making. I’ve even written a book on the topic (see below). You could spend an inordinate amount of time learning influence techniques or you could take my advice and stick to the time-tested basics. The secret to persuasion is as simple as complements and compliments.
Remember, we like people who are like us. So, the first question to ask yourself when you meet someone is this: "How are we similar?"