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If You Want To Persuade Someone, You Have To Do This First

In my last post, I discussed the powerful persuasion tactics of using compliments and complements. In essence, those techniques harness the forces of likeness and liking. Likeness in that you and the other person are alike or in the same group. And liking, in that you like them. We tend to trust people in our group (any group) and that like us.

The first and most important step in persuasion is to establish trust.

If your audience doesn’t trust you, they won’t buy what you are selling—no matter how wonderful the product, service, or idea happens to be. Uncovering complements and offering compliments are ways to build trust.

Another highly effective approach to gain trust is rather counterintuitive: admit a flaw. That’s right, confess that you or your product, service, or idea isn’t perfect. It works because the person you are trying to persuade probably already knows about your flaw. Your mea culpa demonstrates truthfulness, because the admission appears to expose a vulnerability. Telling the truth, seemingly at your own expense, is a sign of trustworthiness.

Furthermore, revealing an uncomfortable truth forms a confidant-style relationship with the other person. After all, we don’t share private or embarrassing matters with people we don’t trust. Saying, “I trust you to keep this information between us,” creates a conspiratorial bond and unconscious obligation of secrecy to the person being entrusted with the admission.

Here are the essential points of admitting a flaw in order to gain trust:

1. Do it early in the conversation. Until you establish trust, they really aren’t listening to what you have to say. They are simply thinking of counter-arguments.

2. Never expose a fatal flaw. I wouldn’t say something like, “We are not very reliable” or “We haven’t done a job quite this big,” because that undermines the trust that you are trying to create. Instead…

3. Your flaw should lead to a competitive advantage.

  • “Admittedly, we aren’t as big as our competition, but because of that we are more nimble and attentive to our customers’ needs.” That qualifier implies larger competitors are slower and less attentive.

  • “As you know… we are not as fast as our competition, but that’s because we are thorough and meticulous. We are fully committed to delivering quality work for our customers.” Obviously, this means faster competitors are prone to sloppy work.

  • “I don’t have to tell you that we are a more premium-priced option, but that is because we invest in the resources to ensure our product (or service) is the best in the industry. We believe our customers deserve the best.” I think you get where I’m headed with this.

4. Use your flaw to qualify the person you are persuading. The key is to frame the inverse of your flaw as your competitor’s flaw.

  • “If you are looking for an enormous company to partner with, the competitor might be a better fit for you.” Choose your words wisely. Earlier, you alluded to the idea that “big” equates to slow and lumbering, so use a word that implies “large” as bureaucratic and unresponsive. But, avoid overt negative references like slow, lumbering, bureaucratic and unresponsive. Subtlety works best.

  • “If you are simply looking to get things done quickly, our competition might be more suitable for you.” Nothing destroys trust faster than mistake-prone work. Why would anyone knowingly buy something faulty or inaccurate?

  • “If you would prefer a cheaper solution, our competition might be a better fit for you.” You have already established the fact that, “You get what you pay for.” Why would they settle for second-best?

Qualifying is a trust-building technique because you are demonstrating the willingness to put the other person's needs over your own.

5. The final step in the process is to get the other person to publicly admit to preferring the advantages your “flaw.” It is absolutely paramount to get them to state it out loud.

  • “I want to work with a nimbler company who is attentive to my needs.”

  • “I want to work with a company I can trust to deliver quality work the first time.”

  • “I don’t want to settle; I want the best.”

When we publicly state our position on something, we feel compelled to live up to it. In other words, it sticks. So, get them to say it out loud and if you need to later... remind them that they said it.

Admitting our flaws is uncomfortable, which is why so few people do it. This is exactly why it is such a refreshingly novel approach. This simple tactic works to establish trust and highlight hidden strengths.

Ben Franklin was right, “Honesty is the best policy.”


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