Persuasion Skills: Can You Be Convincing if You Aren’t Convinced?

You can’t sell something if you aren’t completely sold on it yourself.

Or can you?

What if it’s your job to persuasively communicate something, regardless of your personal feelings?

We might see this with sales development reps (SDRs), account executives, management consultants, or marketing professionals.

We can also potentially see it in a variety of internal or intra-office communications.

These are roles where, although you might be a part of the idea-creation process, you may not fully support the final outcome. But you still have to present it convincingly and persuasively.

The fact is, it’s true that if you do not fully believe in what you’re saying, you will be less convincing. That’s just an inescapable reality of human persuasion.

Incongruence among your words, nonverbals and actions will make you less persuasive.

However, you can mitigate some of the damage with something I like to call professional emptiness.

I realized this when I was doing research for a client of mine, a management consultant. I was looking at other more senior consultants and how they spoke to find good archetypes for my client to mimic.

Some very effective presenters were sharp, concise, and convincing overall, while being emotionally detached from what they were saying.

They had a coolness about them. There wasn’t a fire in their belly. They were not super eager to communicate the concept. But they were still able to do it with confidence, clarity and ease.

If you watch a typical politician or business leader speaking to the media, you will notice they often have a detached air about them.

This is because they have a certain image to present to the public. Most of them are speaking on behalf of multiple coalitions of stakeholders and vested interests. And those stakeholders and vested interests are looking closely to make sure their man or woman doesn’t screw it up.

So whether it’s senators, C-level executives of public companies, chairs of lobbying organizations, or criminal attorneys speaking to the press, they must “do their job” and speak as convincingly as possible.

The downside of detachment and emptiness is that you might come across as lacking any conviction at all.

We assume a truly emotionless, passionless speaker is just aloof and doesn’t care.

We see this frequently with corporate leaders who are on a sinking ship. They are just going through the motions of their job, saying what is “expected” of them. They know their company is failing, or that they will be out of a job soon, but they stand to walk away with tens of millions of dollars in severance, so who cares?

We also see it with some public figures caught up in a scandal, who are nevertheless protected from any real harm by a sweet contract or guaranteed government deal.

Such people are not convincing, and they don’t try to be. We can all see what’s going on, and we don’t buy into their empty words.

Nevertheless, if your job is to sell something you don’t fully believe in, adopting some professional emptiness will let you perform well enough.

And try to find at least one thing that you can get excited about. There is no substitute for genuine enthusiasm.

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