Is it possible to capture and communicate anything of value about persuasion in a single sentence?  It is and I’m about to prove it.  But before, let me explain why it’s important.

All marketing efforts hinge on effective persuasion.  No subject is more fascinating, empowering and profitable, and unfortunately, confusing.  It doesn’t have to be though.

Persuasion doesn’t require good looks, a silver tongue or infallible logic.  It doesn’t require charisma or a magnetic personality.  It’s actually a pretty simple matter when you cut through all the smoke.  That, of course, is the hard part.

I read the 27 words I’m about to share a long time ago and found them so true and useful that I’ve grounded any and all marketing efforts in some part of them.

The Sentence

The fundamentals behind persuasion require a fundamental understanding of human nature.  Even the most extreme examples of persuasion–suicide cults and mass movements–are often based on the most basic of human desires.

The sentence that can guide your persuasion efforts, the “one-sentence persuasion course” is this:

People will do anything for those who encourage their dreams, justify their failures, allay their fears, confirm their suspicions and help them throw rocks at their enemies.

Read that again.  (To allay, by the way, means to reduce or end fear, concern or difficulty.)

People will do anything for those who encourage their dreams, justify their failures, allay their fears, confirm their suspicions and help them throw rocks at their enemies.

That single 27-word sentence contains five of the most important insights I’ve seen in studying persuasion.

1.  Encourage their dreams.

2.  Justify their failures.

3.  Allay their fears.

4.  Confirm their suspicions.

5.  Help them throw rocks at their enemies.

The Explanation

If you don’t believe me, try and find a truly successful ad campaign that doesn’t use one or more of these five insights. Really, try to find one.

Then, when you give up on that, try to find a deep, satisfying relationship that isn’t built upon one or more of them.  Just try to find people who have a remarkable chemistry yet fail to encourage each other’s dreams.  Or who demand that the other is to blame.  Or who fail to address each other’s concerns.  Or who treat each other as paranoid.  Or who leave each other to fight their own battles.

You may be able to find one if you looked hard enough, but you’d probably find 100 of the opposites to counter that.

On encouraging dreams…

Parents sometimes discourage their children’s dreams “for their own good” and attempt to steer them toward more “reasonable” goals.  And children often accept this as normal until someone comes along and believes in them and encourages their dreams.

When this happens, who do you think has more power?  Parents or strangers?

On justifying failures…

While millions cheer on Dr. Phil as he tells people to accept responsibility for their mistakes, millions are looking for someone to take responsibility off their shoulders–to tell them that they aren’t responsible for their lot in life.  And while accepting responsibility is essential for gaining control of one’s own life, it sometimes takes assuring another that he isn’t responsible to get him moving in the right direction.

One need look no further than politics to see how powerfully this game is played.

On allaying fears…

When we are afraid, it’s almost impossible to concentrate on anything else.  And while everyone knows this, what do we do when someone else is afraid and we need to get their attention?

That’s right.  We tell them not to be afraid and expect that to do the trick.  Does it work?  Hardly.  And yet we don’t seem to notice. We go on as if we’d solved the problem and the person before us fades further away.

But there are those who do realize this and pay special attention to our fears.  They do not tell us not to be afraid.  They work with us until our fear subsides.  They present evidence.  They offer support.  They tell us stories. But they do not tell us how to feel and expect us to feel that way.

When you are afraid, which type of person do you prefer to be with?

On confirming suspicions…

One of the favorite sayings of us humans is “I knew it.”  There is just nothing quite like having our suspicions confirmed.

When another person confirms something we suspect, we not only feel a surge of superiority, we feel attracted to the one who helped us make that surge come about.

And finally, on helping throw rocks at enemies…

Nothing bonds us quite like having a common enemy.  I know it sounds ugly, but it’s true nonetheless.  Those who understand this can utilize it.  Those who don’t or won’t use it are abandoning a powerful way to connect with others.

No matter what you may think of this, rest assured that everyone has enemies.  All of us.

It has been said that everyone you meet is engaged in a great struggle.  The thing they are struggling with is their enemy.  Whether it is another individual, a group, an illness, a setback, a rival philosophy or religion, or what have you, when you are engaged in a struggle, you are looking for others to join your side.

Those who do become more than friends; they become trusted partners.

Persuasion Principles are Amoral

If you’re turned off by this article on the grounds of it being unethical, remember that persuasion principles like these are amoral. That is, they carry no connotation of right or wrong–they can be used to deceive or to help, and that choice is on you.

The fact that they’re often used to deceive is, in my opinion, a strong reason why us looking to help need to use them just as effectively. We have to out-persuade the deceivers.

So give some thought as to how you can encourage people’s dreams, justify their failures, allay their fears, confirm their suspicions, and throw rocks at their enemies, and thus help them take action that’s in their best interests.


What did you think of this persuasion technique? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!