Al Uszynski

Article Summary:

Enhance your success by improving your persuasive communication skills.

Persuasive Communication

Months after Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones hired Bill Parcells as Head Coach, someone asked Jones how things were going. Jones replied, "I had no idea that I was bringing in a head coach who would be so intimately involved with every aspect of this football team." In fact, NFL analysts and football gurus cite Parcells’ meticulous attention to detail as one of the major factors of his stellar coaching career.

As professionals, we can learn a lesson from his success: We can dramatically escalate our performance when we start paying more attention to the little things.

Sales pros can enhance their success by improving their persuasive communication skills. Sometimes we fall into the habit of saying things the same way we’ve said them for years. By doing so, we often miss opportunities to be more persuasive. Without realizing it, we may even put another person on the defensive or create a negative image of our business and ourselves.

Here are six common phrases and habits that you can avoid or alter in order to become more persuasive.

"To be honest with you…"
Why do people feel the need to announce their honesty? Does this mean that they’re lying otherwise? Usually, people use this phrase to set up a statement that might be inconsistent with the goals they are trying to achieve. (For example: "To be honest with you, our competitor’s system is somewhat faster.")

The alternative here is to omit the "honesty" phrase altogether and get to the point. If you feel compelled to announce that you are being up front, do what Mel Kass of Bear Stearns in New York City does. He replaces the phrase with one word: "candidly." It’s simple and it focuses more on spontaneity than honesty. It goes without saying that we should always be honest – it’s much easier to remember what we’ve said when we are!

"What I want to talk about is…"
People don’t care about what you want, especially if you’re trying to persuade them. They only care about what they want. When it’s time to introduce a new topic in a conversation, tie it to the other person’s benefit. For example, say, "So that we can find out how to best (save you money, increase your productivity or give you another benefit) let’s discuss…." Do this and you’ll be appealing to your customers’ concerns rather than forcing your agenda upon them.

Negative language
The popular optical illusion below is a good example of how context affects perception. Which horizontal line is longer? Of course, they’re both the same length, but the top one looks longer. The arrowheads on each side of the line have a significant impact on the viewer’s perception. Likewise, in persuasive speech different words packaged around the same information can have a huge impact on the listener’s perception.

Persuasive speakers communicate by using positive language. Instead of saying, "We can’t ship the products until next Tuesday," say, "We can ship the products as early as next Tuesday." What a difference! Put yourself in the listener’s shoes. Which version is more appealing to you?

The habit of using positive speech has helped me to achieve many more results than I thought possible. You can practice this skill all the time, too. Try it with coworkers, family and friends. You’ll begin to see things in a whole new light!

"So what you’re saying is…"
I hate it when someone pulls this one on me. Half the time his interpretation of my words is off base; I then have to correct him and reiterate my ideas. Since he’s summarizing me and I’m correcting him, this dangerous phrase puts us both on the defensive.

The other half of the time his summary is not necessarily wrong, but it’s incomplete and missing my major points. That causes me to restate my points while he clings to his "brilliant" summary. This also sends the message that he perceives my points as long-winded and vague, forcing him to rescue my message from obscurity. Needless to say, this doesn’t put me at ease or give me a sense of confidence in him. The same may be true for the people you deal with in business.

Here’s a better way to ensure that you and others are on the same page. Turn the confirming statement into a question seeking confirmation. Instead of, "So what you’re saying is….", try, "Am I correct to understand your (points, ideas, reasons, etc.) to be…?" This demonstrates that you are listening and trying to synchronize with them, rather than forcing your own interpretation down their throats.

"What you have to do is…"
Barking orders is not beneficial to persuasion. When someone says the above phrase to me I immediately think, "Who the heck are you to tell me what I have to do?"

This phrase usually precedes how-to information. For example, while the following statement gets the message across, it’s not the most persuasive: "What you have to do is buy an inexpensive interface in order for our hardware to be compatible with your system." You’ll sound much friendlier and less bossy by saying, "Our hardware is compatible with your system by using an inexpensive interface, purchased separately." Customers don’t like being told that they have to buy or do something.

"I don’t know how much you know about (topic), but…"
I just love this one. The person openly admits to not knowing the listener’s level of knowledge, and then babbles on hoping that his points will stick. One of three things happens in this situation:

1. The speaker talks over your head and wastes your time. He comes off as a know-it-all who can’t relate to you.

2. He tells you stuff you already know and wastes your time. He possibly insults your intelligence and might come off as condescending.

3. By some random happenstance, he appeals to your level of knowledge and drives home his point.
There is a 2 in 3 chance of a negative outcome when choosing this route. Persuasive communicators don’t take those chances.

Here’s an easy process to use as an alternative:
1. Ask them, "How much do you know about (topic)?"

2. Be quiet and listen.

3. Speak to their appropriate level of expertise.
When speaking to a larger group ask for a show of hands with "How many of you know a lot about (topic)? Something? Nothing?" Then speak to the consensus level or slightly below it.

Now do it.
Your journey to more persuasive communication begins now. Employ these ideas and keep your antenna up for other ways that you can become more persuasive. Like any new skill, it will feel awkward at first and will take a lot of practice. But when you begin to win over and persuade more people, you’ll likely agree that it is well worth the effort.

Al Uszynski helps companies and individuals sell more, earn more and profit more. As a sales trainer and professional speaker, he helps his clients achieve outstanding business results. Al is the founder of Selling Resource. Get the free sales tips newsletter and free report “12 Mistakes Salespeople Make” at or read more at

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