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Using persuasive communication


Persuasive communication is a key skill to develop in almost any day-to-day work context – from motivating a team member to putting your case forward for a budget increase. Christine Knott gives us her tips.


The importance of action commands 

There are always occasions when you need someone to do something in a certain way or respond quickly to your request. It could be a life or death situation where you have minimal time to get across your message. Alternatively instances at work could require the transfer of instructions or perhaps a call to action with a client.
Socially you may want to put your point across about a social engagement, the list is quite extensive. When these occasions arise you can begin to lead your audience towards the outcome you want to achieve, by carefully engineering what you say.  

Removing the word ‘don’t’

The mind responds to words, consciously and unconsciously. Most of us can recall situations when we have delivered instructions with the word don’t. It would be unfair to think that your audience is deliberately ignoring your instructions. They are picking up on the verb, which is the first word we hear and act upon. Verbs or action words are particularly powerful as they create mental activity in another person. We generally hear and act upon the verb first, the negative word ‘don’t’, is recognised after the action, if at all.
Such activity is very similar to the mental activity that occurs prior to a person’s physical action or decision-making. Therefore, with the right words, you can create a mental rehearsal of what you want a person to do. This rehearsal familiarises the brain with the action and so increases the likelihood of the desired action taking place: ‘Keep within the guidelines of the brief’ is more effective than ‘Don’t stray from the brief’.
The mere introduction of the negative behaviour plants it in the other person’s brain so that it becomes a point of focus. When you give instructions remove the action you want them to avoid from your conversation and focus on your outcome. If you want to influence a person or a group to do as you want them to do, you must tell them with clear well designed action statements.  
Ideally, you want to create a message that survives long after you have left. It must make sense on its own, independent from any specific context. It must stand alone, without you needing to be present for it to have a meaning. Action commands ultimately lead people to do what you what them to do. With enough mental rehearsal, the final act will seem to come from them rather than from any active “closing” on your part.
An action command must be clear and so you must know what you want to happen. The best action commands are; 
  • Short: - e.g. “decide Limited to one or two key ideas
  • Action orientated
  • Repeated in different ways
  • Have an outcome that is possible 

How to send your message

Once you know how to ‘send’ an action command, the next stage is to find how to send it in a way that avoids resistance. If you can ‘send your message’ in a way that is not recognised, the likelihood of the desired behaviour occurring is significantly increased.

This process of sending a message without it being noticed is often called “subliminal”.
Other uses of subliminal messages can fall into the category of presuppositions when we presuppose something.
Presuppositions can be used to good effect in many situations. For example:
‘How good will you feel when you successfully complete the project before Friday’ implies they will finish it before Friday. It also implies that they will feel good so who wouldn’t want to finish it before Friday!

Stating your outcome

If you state exactly what you want someone to do there is a higher chance they will deliver for you as requested. During a recent conversation with a colleague they expressed their frustration with another colleague who generally responded to her message ‘Can you call me later’, by returning the call after several days. A simple suggestion that she try leaving a message that stated when she required a call back was put into action with positive results. Sadly many of us have not adopted the role of mind-reader, despite this we still conclude that someone fully understands the thoughts behind our statements.

Matching and mirroring 

Body language can be used to consciously deliver embedded commands or guide someone to a certain state. Breathing patterns can be used to good effect to calm someone who is angry or agitated. Match their breathing pattern by breathing at the same rate. Start to slow your breathing and notice how theirs follows and begins to slow down to bringing someone into a calmer state in order to communicate more effectively.  

Likewise, matching or mirroring body movements in a subtle way allows you to lead your audience to a more positive position. If you want to express the positive side of a situation nod your head as you verbalise it.
Christine Knott is the founder of training and field marketing company Beyond The Box. For more information on Beyond The Box visit: You can read her other feature: Selling yourself with NLP here.

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