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Published:November 22nd, 2006 05:31 EST
Power of Persuasion Isn't in Stomping

Power of Persuasion Isn't in Stomping

By Terry Sumerlin (Mentor/Columnist)

“Have you written a Barber-osophy about that?” a friend asked. “If you haven’t, maybe you should.”

The customer had reference to a comment I’d made regarding something that was on television. It was a presidential Q & A at Kansas State University. Which president it was is unimportant. I simply commented to my customer that I was appalled at how abrupt, flippant and somewhat rude the president was to many of the students. The Barber-osophy was suggested when I said it seems anyone who feels a need to be rude or abrupt to make a point is apparently insecure or unsure of his point.

It reminded me of the church janitor who found a draft of the preacher’s sermon notes in the wastebasket. He noticed that in the margin beside one point was written, “Stomp loudly. Weak point.” Such an approach might fool some of the people some of the time, but it will ultimately weaken credibility. And, even when it seems to work, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

In view of these observations, perhaps we should invest time in learning techniques that might favorably change another’s will. Along this line, consider the lives of three of our nation’s outstanding leaders, and how they illustrate time-tested techniques of persuasion.

The first leader is Benjamin Franklin. Though he has a multitude of impressive achievements to his credit, one can’t help being especially impressed with what Franklin achieved in self-discipline. For instance, when an old Quaker friend took him aside and told him that he was abrupt, abrasive and arrogant, he took definite steps to change.

In the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, he says, “I made it a rule to forbear all direct contradiction to the sentiments of others, and all positive assertions of my own. I even forbade myself the use of every word or expression in the language that imported a fix’d opinion, such as ‘certainly,’ ‘undoubtedly,’ etc., and I adopted, instead of them, ‘I conceive,’ ‘I apprehend,’ or ‘I imagine’ a thing to be so or so; or ‘ it appears so at the present.’” He also said that when another proposed something he thought was in error, “I denied myself the pleasure of contradicting abruptly.” He rather observed that in certain circumstances the person would be right, but in the present case there appeared to be some difference.

So, what’s my point? Am I saying that in every situation requiring persuasion, and in every particular, we should adopt Benjamin Franklin’s approach? Not necessarily. I’m simply saying that he is atop the list of our nation’s greatest statesmen. Perhaps the same non-abrasive methods of persuasion which made him one of the greatest diplomats in history would serve us equally well in our relationships.

The other two American leaders I have in mind when it comes to powers of persuasion are Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan. Though they had many leadership traits in common, one such outstanding trait was the ability to persuade through relating a good story.

It’s no secret that everyone loves a good story. What is lesser known is that studies show nothing has more power to win others to our way of thinking than a story. Unfortunately, we don’t tell enough stories and, often, don’t tell them very well. Reagan and Lincoln were masters of such.

They both told stories that were easy to understand and that had obvious points. Oftentimes their stories were humorous. They were also succinct. In other words, they didn’t rabble on for an hour and conclude by saying, “Well, to make a long story short.” That, no doubt contributed to the fact their stories were memorable.

At this point you may be thinking, “Well, that’s fine for them. They were gifted communicators. I’m not.” There may be some truth to that. Or, there may not. Regardless, you and I are gifted with something neither of them ever had – our unique experiences. With time and practice we can learn to diplomatically relate these, as well as other people’s experiences, in our attempts to persuade others.

BARBER-OSOPHY: To persuade without giving offense or arousing bitterness, generously use diplomacy and effective storytelling.

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