4 steps to persuade anybody to do (almost) anything

Persuasion is a skill that every SME founder needs to master, says entrepreneur and author Bob Hayward

To lead a team effectively, manage a group of people, build a business, and even to bring up a family – all these things either happen or don’t because of our ability to bring others with us.

We need others to buy into our ideas and journey with us on our preferred path.

So, why do people rise as leaders or managers? For two simple reasons:

  • They get things done well
  • Because they can bring others with them. The one thing that separates an authentic leader from others is that he or she has willing followers

Persuasion has become an essential managerial tool because businesses are typically run by groups of talented individuals, often very unenthusiastic about being told what to do. Teams outstrip how individuals perform every time. How do you, as a leader or manager, turn individuals into teams?

By persuasion.

Persuasion is not about making a one-time sale or winning a one-time argument. You don’t want to convince a staff member to pour their heart and soul into a major-change project only to have that same person regret it a week after they started because the project turned out to be a dud. Persuasion is about making a professional case for yourself, which your later actions back up daily. Persuasion creates teams, allies, collaborators and friends who are with you for the long haul. And the good news is you can learn to persuade whether you’re an extrovert or introvert.

Persuasion is a skill – part psychology, part human relationships, part communication — so you start by studying some key aspects of each.

There are four key steps to persuading others.


One key principle is self-awareness, recognising that the way we each see the world is different. Even when two people are standing side by side looking at the same thing, the minor differences between them mean they see things differently. Simply understanding that, accepting that differences are normal, means you will approach persuasion more effectively.

Behavioural flexibility

An old rule of human relationships is to treat people the way you wish you to be treated. That strategy doesn’t work too well. What is required is to treat people the way they wish to be treated. This requires us to be more interested in the other person, to find out how they tick. Don’t be rigid. That flexibility, treating people more in line with their preferences, makes you more persuasive.

Create a shared pool of understanding

Often communication is seen as a broadcast, even with one-to-one conversation, verbal or written. Sadly, many people consider that the whole point of the conversation is to tell you their story, their opinion or their view of the world. By shifting the purpose of communication to one of creating a shared pool of mutual understanding, with genuine common ground, you have a much greater chance of persuading someone.

Ethos, pathos, logos

A lot of what we know and do today is arguably based on the philosophies and teachings of some of the great Greek philosophers from over 3,000 years ago. The most commonly accepted and used principles of persuasion today are based on ethos, pathos & logos.

  • Ethos – personal credibility
  • Pathos – empathy
  • Logo – logical argument

Establishing credibility first is critical. Without it, the other person is unlikely to listen, pay attention and believe what the other person is saying.

Having established personal credibility, then the persuader will attempt to understand the other person and see things from their point of view. They, of course, are more likely to listen to the proposal because they feel that the persuader is credible (ethos), clearly understands their point of view and their challenges (pathos), and are therefore inclined to see the value in what you’re suggesting (logos).

Bob Hayward has started six businesses from scratch and built five of them to £1 million turnover or more. He is co-author of the book Persuade: How to persuade anyone about anything