The 12 Tenets of Persuasion

The art of dealmaking is much more than just persuasion, negotiation techniques or networking skills. You have to become a master communicator if you’re going to have any chance to sell your ideas and move up in life. The best persuaders are the best communicators.

The following is a loosely based set of beliefs, mindsets, frames/frameworks and mental models. My preferred definition is mental model or mental frame culled from various sources.

1. High Value Assumption. The idea behind high value assumption is that you always assume and speak from a high value frame for yourself. That is, regardless of whether you have experience, knowledge or networks to rely on, you still value yourself highly and you aim to increase or keep that higher value. This means that you never sink to low-value behaviors such as begging, supplicating, giving away free compliance, pushing, etc.

This stance allows you to keep your self-respect and walk away from any situation even if you don’t get what you want because again the aim is to preserve the high-value stance. Also remember that in general people want to be led so lead them but don’t try to control them. If they’re unwilling to come along for the ride, then you shouldn’t try to force them. That would be low-value behavior.

2. Mutual Value Exchange/Escalation. The idea behind mutual value escalation is that in any situation or interaction you’re always trying to increase the value that both parties get. This is a play on the meme of win-win. However MVE takes win-win and expands the realm of possibilities of winning. You may think you know what the other side would consider a win but you will be wrong most of the time since you’re judging it based on your own criteria of winning. When you look at it from the perspective of making sure they get value out of it while you’re also getting value, it makes it easier to negotiate.

As applied to persuasion, it states that whenever we attempt to persuade, we must do so in a way that enriches and expands the mental models of others and gives them choice rather than takes away choice. There are many persuasion techniques out there that are considered unethical that work by restricting choices to the ones that you want them to take. In fact my definition of unethical persuasion is one where you’re striving to restrict people’s choices and ethical persuasion is one where you strive to augment their choices and enrich their mental models. The use of choice-restriction techniques in ethical persuasion (such as the take-away, scarcity, etc) is only done as a way to jar people’s current restrictive models and force them to re-evaluate their options.

3. The person with the most flexibility and the most options exercises the most influence. This is one of the core tenets of cybernetics and systems theory and is also known as the law of requisite variety. As applied to persuasion, it states that the person who has the most choices of response is the one who’s going to end up leading the interaction. In chess, whoever can think one step further than their opponent usually wins. This is another facet of the law of options.

4. People respond to you based on their own mental models. This basically states that when you talk to people and you try to persuade them, you need to understand what model or frame are they using to communicate with you on that specific context and use that to either pace them or lead them. The basic understanding is that until you know for sure how the other person thinks, you can’t assume that they think exactly like you do. This is the most common mistake people make when communicating or persuading. We must respect the other person’s mental model and not try to change it to be like ours. This is the second most common mistake we make while communicating.

Rapport is achieved when we step inside the other person’s mental model, even if for a few seconds, and we see things from their perspective. We can then choose to pace it and then lead them or we can choose to ignore it, assume the higher value and qualify them. It all depends on us, but the fact that we have options makes all the difference. (see the above law/model/belief) I call this technique “getting inside their head” When you don’t have rapport you will experience a lot of resistance.

5. Context determines meaning. While you can attach any meaning to any concept or behavior, more often than not, the context will determine the meaning of any behavior or communication.

6. The meaning of your communication depends on the response that you get. This tenet derives from the rule of flexibility. It puts the responsibility for communicating the right thing on you and now on the other person understanding what you say. Things mean whatever the other person thinks they mean not what you intended it to mean. This will allow you to change your behavior and be flexible in your communication until you get the desired response. (see tenet 3)  People haphazardly gain meaning from experiences and information so why can’t I be the one who gives them the meaning ahead of time?

7. The one who sets the frame for the communication controls the outcome of the communication. This tenet basically states that how you frame a particular behavior controls or directs how people will respond to it. A frame is essentially a perspective, a way how you see things. If you want to be the one driving the persuasion or communication, you should be the one who sets the frame. If the other person however happens to set the frame that you want, there’s no need to one-up them, so just follow along. Remember the principle of variety and choices in response. Here’s a good example of setting the frame:

  • “The sun has a beautiful red color to it as it’s setting tonight. (frame) Let’s take a walk on the beach”
  • “It’s going to be too dark when we get there (new frame- Dark is not good)”
  • Seductive voice ‘Well that will be nice. That way no one can see what I’m going to do to you once we get there’ (reframe- Dark is good)

One of the most important,  basic, core skills in persuasion is the ability to reframe a situation to mean anything we want in order to drive the persuasion in the direction that we want.

8. Objections indicate lack of perceived value. In almost any persuasion situation, the primary reason why people object to your “sales pitch” is the fact that you didn’t build enough value for your product or idea, and by value I mean value that is specific to their situation.

9. Value = Believable Result. Value is a lot of things, and we’ll get into the specifics of it later, however at the core, you’re not selling a product or yourself, you’re selling the most valued results that the product (or yourself) provides someone.

10. There is no failure only feedback. This means that all the responses you get are purely feedback regardless of whether they are the intended result or the unintended result. In fact even if you get what you intended, you should still see it as feedback rather than “success” vs. “failure” This same principle can be applied to situations where you think you may say something stupid which will hold you back. There are no situations that you can’t recover from.

11. Time is the most important consideration to a persuader. (credit Doc Sulo) The most common belief amongst people out there is that time is far more important than money because you can always get more money but you can’t get more time. So as a persuader you should try to minimize the time spent but that doesn’t mean you should strive for quick results. It does mean however that you should try and gather as much information as you can, plan and strategize rather than try persistently. This means you don’t want to get a quick kill.

12. A great persuader will always leverage time spent persuading into maximum benefits over time. (credit Doc Sulo) What this means is that when you spend time to gather information and persuade someone, you might as well leverage that time into long-term benefits. This means that you should focus on long-term persuasion vs. short-term persuasion. In this book we will only discuss long-term techniques. Time is important but you have to plan things out in advance from the beginning all the way to the end and using strategy to use your time in the most beneficial way. Tim Ferriss always talks about making friends and creating relationships with people who will further both of your options in the future, thus be mutually valuable. He will cut all the “dead weight” of relationships and partnerships that are either suffocating your value or no longer bringing in any new value.