Does Persuasion Mean Dishonesty?

Persuasion is a tool that almost anyone can learn to use. But just like all tools, what matters is the person using it, their intentions and ethics.

I told someone recently that I help people to become more persuasive and effective at communicating. He responded flatly “I don’t like to be persuasive. I like to be real and honest.”

I thought this unfortunate statement was very telling.

This individual happens to think that “persuasion” means lying, manipulation, or misrepresentation.

And he’s not alone. Many people think of “persuasion” as just a step above “selling” on the ladder of sleaze.

(And viewing selling as a sleazy and dishonest activity is just as misguided.)

But persuasion is a tool. Selling is a tool. Nuclear technology can be used to power millions of homes and businesses. Or it can be used for utter destruction.

What makes something right or wrong is the person and their motivations, not the tool itself.

The other aspect of this is that we are most persuasive when we are being honest and real.

There are very few people on earth who can be very persuasive while being dishonest. Professional con artists. Spies and double agents. Sociopaths of various stripes.

And (other than the sociopaths), these people usually have to go to great mental effort to hold their conflicting beliefs or to show radically different personalities to different people, while maintaining believability.

Even people who are selling snake oil will be very persuasive if they themselves believe in their product. If they don’t believe in it on some level, their persuasive abilities will be extremely limited.

Before they deceive anyone else, they must deceive themselves.

But for the vast majority of us who just want to do meaningful work that provides value while getting compensated, it’s so much easier to start from an honest place.

Honesty and genuineness come through in our communication with others. We convey our true feelings in numerous nonverbal ways–eye movement, body positioning, vocal tonality and so on.

People sense they are talking to someone “real” and genuine. Someone who is not trying to deceive them or take advantage of them. This makes them comfortable and allows them to open up. They become more receptive to our message. That is persuasion.

The most effective persuasion is honest persuasion.

All of the small challenges that will come up when trying to sell or persuade someone will be much, much easier if you are being honest.

Questions, resistance, dragging their feet, uncertainty, following up… honesty and having their best interests at heart will motivate you to keep the process going, and make it more likely you will succeed.

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