Friday, August 6, 2010

The Power to Persuade

How master of “supersuasion” can change your mind

“Nothing is so unbelievable that oratory cannot make it acceptable.”

I don’t know about you, but most of my attempts at persuasion end up going ’round in circles: impassioned, long-winded affairs that seem as if they’re working. But aren’t. This is why I’ve become fascinated with something I call “supersuasion,” a brand-new kind of influence that disables our cognitive security systems in seconds. Animals do it. Babies do it. But for reasons that I’ve been exploring, most of us grownups seem to find it difficult. With one or two exceptions, of course.

My journey to understand the art of persuasion began a couple of years ago, with the simple idea that some of us are better at it than others. And that, just as with every other skill, there’s a spectrum of talent along which each of us has our place. At one end are those who always say the wrong thing. At the other, the supersuaders, who always get it right. These black belts in influence hark back to the days of our ancestors; their powers of persuasion effortlessly recapitulating the immediate, instinctual response sets of our primeval, preconscious past. Their elite, flashbulb influence suffuses all before it. It is fast. It is simple. And it works. Immediately. Instantaneously. NOW.

You could call it the persuasion “hole in one.”

Take, for example, the man I encountered on a flight (business class, thanks to a film company I was working for) from London to New York. The guy across from me had a problem with his food. After several minutes of prodding it around his plate, he summoned the chief steward to his side.

“This food,” he enunciated, “sucks.”

The chief steward nodded and was very understanding. “Oh, we’re very sorry!” he replied. “It’s such a pity! How will we ever make it up to you?”

Not bad, I thought.

“Look,” continued the man (he was, one suspected, quite used to continuing). “I know it’s not your fault. But it just isn’t good enough. And you know what? I’m so fed up with people being nice!”

But then came something that totally changed the game.
That didn’t just turn the tables. It kicked ’em over.

THE F* * * DON’T YOU SHUT UP, YOU F * * * ING A * *
HOLE?” Instantly, the whole cabin fell silent. Who the hell…?

A guy in one of the front seats turned around. He looked at the fellow who was complaining about his food, winked at him, and inquired, “Is that any better? Cause if it ain’t, I can keep going.”

For a moment, nobody said anything. Everyone, quite literally, f-r-o-z-e. But then, as if some secret neural tripwire had been pulled, our disgruntled diner ... smiled. And then he laughed. And then he really laughed. This, in turn, set the chief steward off. And that, of course, got us all started. Problem solved with just a handful of simple words. And definitive proof, if ever any were needed, of what my old English teacher Mr. Johnson used to say: You can be as rude as you like, so long as you’re polite about it. Almost without effort, this connoisseur of curses (who also happened to be a famous musician) had used supersuasion to deflect an awkward situation and turn the tables another way. And he did so by uniting biology, psychology and neuroscience in a model of influence with five constituent factors— factors that may be handily arranged in the acronym “SPICE”: Simplicity, Perceived self-interest, Incongruity, Confidence and Empathy. Studies have taken these five elements apart one by one to show us how each one works in building toward supersuasion.

Source of Information : Scientific American Mind March-April 2010

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