The One Thing That Will Make You More Persuasive

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Have you ever had all the facts on your side and still couldn’t convince someone you were right?

Stephen Denning can help you make you case. He’s the author of several books on leadership and narrative, including The Secret Language of Leadership.

Stephen Denning

Stephen Denning

Author

Steve Denning is the author of the award-winning books, The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management: Re-inventing the Workplace for the 21st Century, The Secret Language of Leadership and The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling.

Here’s an edited version of part of what he said in a program that he recorded exclusively with Mixergy.

Why don’t facts persuade?

When we have an opinion about a subject and someone gives us reasons about why that opinion might be wrong, our immediate instinct is not to change that opinion, but instead to lower our opinion of the information source.

This has been documented in all sorts of different countries and contexts. One of the studies was done in 2004 in the course of the presidential campaign, John Kerry versus George H W Bush. And they put in front of 30 people–15 strong Democrats and 15 strong Republicans–blatantly self-contradictory statements by the two candidates.

What they found was that Republicans loved the statements that supported their point of view–and found ingenious reasons to dismiss the other statements. And likewise the Democrats. So the two groups were even more deeply entrenched in their positions at the end of the day.

So, if more data doesn’t persuade, what does?

Stories. Stories work from the right side of the brain. People actually live the experience. They breath the experience. They identify with the hero of the story. They become the hero of the story in their own minds. And the analytical tools are left on the ground while they are experiencing the story.

Then, having lived the story, having breathed the story, having become the story, they start to see the world in a different way. If the story is going well, they start to think, “that was pretty interesting, I can do that in my world.”

What’s one way that we can find the right story to tell?

The criterion is, who wold be the hero that the audience would most likely empathize with? So, if you’re talking to publishers for example, other things being equal, a publisher would be a hero they’re most likely to empathize with.

Download the full 40-minute program for more storytelling techniques.


  • interesting perspective Mr. Denning brings to the table. Although I would have to disagree with him on his viewpoint that story telling is the holy grail of persuading someone. In my experience different personality types dictates on how a person is comfortable making decisions. At the end of the day, persuasion is the art of guiding someone to make a decision that meets your expected outcome.

    For example, try persuading an analytical personality type with a story, you’ll feel like your running up a hill. These people want facts, figures and data, they are comfortable making decisions based on data, not stories.

    On the other hand an amiable, expressive or driver personality type telling a story might be the better route since they do not make decisions based on data but how they feel and bottom line.

    that’s what I’ve learned, different people have to be persuaded in different manners, what do you think?

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