“The true spirit of conversation consists more in bringing out the cleverness of others than in showing a great deal of it yourself.” -Jean de La Bruyere
When you try to dominate an argument or influence another person, they often push back with great effort. This is frustrating, but it is also natural and common. How can you get past this pattern in your interactions?
In this article, you will learn the principles behind our resistance and the five strategies for persuasion from The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene. To see my full interview with Robert Greene, check out the YouTube video embedded below.
The game of influence is counterintuitive. In the physical world, the harder you push, the faster an object moves to your liking. People tend to work in the opposite way. When you push a person, they become defensive and resist your every move. Soon, there is no getting through at all. Trying to persuade a person can feel like fighting your way out of quicksand. The more energy you expend, the harder it is to move.
We forget that there are many paths for persuasion. Yes, there is the path of direct action, but it is not effective. There is also a neutral path. We can give up and hope for the best. But, the masters of persuasion opt for actively confirming others and thereby reducing their resistance.
The first step is to humble yourself. Recognize that you are also defensive and resistant to the influence of others, even when they mean well. It is natural to desire to feel free and autonomous. This is even necessary to establish our own identity in the world. Unfortunately, our moves toward autonomy will crystallize into defensiveness.
The self-opinion has some universal qualities, such as a belief that we are intelligent and generally good. With experience, we also develop individual stories about ourselves. Strong and specific self-opinions often arise from developmental issues to protect us from feelings that we cannot bear.
When you see this in yourself, it becomes easier to understand it in others. Help them to feel affirmed in their freedom. When people have a sense that they are validated, they will let their guard down.
In our relationships and groups that we join, we resist the ideas that clash with our self-opinion and we actively seek groups and situations that confirm it. Even people who think poorly of themselves will seek to confirm their negative self-opinion. Do not try to tell these people that they are good and worthy, they will only fight to prove you wrong.
“There was something terribly enthralling in the exercise of influence. No other activity was like it.” -Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
There is tremendous power in persuading other people, because once they support you, they will want to honor their sense that they are consistent. So, they will often continue to judge you worthy of their support.
To finally get through to people, use these five strategies for persuasion from The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene.
1. Transform yourself into a deep listener. We care mostly about our own thoughts, but your desire to influence people can drive you to reverse your focus. Think about the other person’s thoughts. Their lives are as complex and interesting as yours, maybe moreso. Look for anything that can guide you to the other person’s way of being. This can be body language or key words. The goal is to make them feel pleasant rather than resistant. For more on reading people, check out my interview with Scarlett Kennedy in the YouTube video embedded below.
2. Infect people with the proper mood. Our emotions are contagious. When you smile at a stranger on the street, they often smile back. Use this visceral layer of influence to get people feeling happy, laughing, etc.
3. Confirm their self-opinion. For a person to do what you desire, they must desire it for themself. So, paint them a picture that they will find appealing. Use what you have learned through observation to connect with what the other person wants most. And, if possible, use social proof to show that other people desire the same thing. You can go so far as to agree with people and appear to be influenced by them, thus confirming their self-opinion about their intellect. You can even frame things as a moral issue. Then people will want to do it to appear to be good and generous,
4. Allay their insecurities. Let people think that you like them. They will tend to like you for it. Try paying a sincere compliment. After that, wait before mentioning what you are really after.
5. Use people’s resistance and stubbornness. Some people are extremely resistant to any influence. Harness the energy they put into resisting you and use that energy to guide them. If they express strong emotions, align your goal with those emotions. If they use strong language, use the same language to describe your vision. If they oppose you because they are stubborn, affirm their behavior. They will change sides simply to oppose you again. This is how parents have used reverse psychology on their children for generations.
“He who really wants to get to know something new (be it a person, an event, a book) does well to entertain it with all possible love.” -Friedrich Nietzsche
In the end, the best person to use these strategies on is yourself. With time and age, your beliefs will calcify. The greatest creative people are able to take a childlike perspective even after the thousands of hours needed to master their craft.
Use this power for yourself by viewing your ideas and opinions as malleable. You can break them down and reshape them to suit your needs. With a playful mindset, even things that you disagree with will hold value that you can extract.
For an in-depth look at our nature, the book to read is The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene.