Summary Written by Jill Donahue
"How do you convince someone to do what you want, in a way that leaves both of you feeling good about it?"

- Persuasion, page 1

The Big Idea

Care and Listen

"It’s astonishing how often people go into critically important meetings armed with spreadsheets, an impressive track record, and lofty-sounding mission statements and promises, yet with no clue what the other party actually wants."- Persuasion, page 124

And how do you figure out what they want? Simply put: caring and listening. If you put them first, are interested in them and ask questions such that you listen more than you talk, you are sure to discover it!

Persuasion, Dickinson says, is about connecting; not only wanting what is best for the other party but caring enough to find out what it is. This way, you achieve an outcome that benefits others while simultaneously attaining your goal. The key to this path is caring and listening.

“…at least half of what makes you persuasive occurs before you ever even open your mouth.”

When was the last time you started your effort to persuade with a question? Perhaps it’s time to stop telling and start engaging. Find out what is important to them and what they want. Make persuasion an interaction, a dialogue not a monologue.

Insight #1


"Trust is the bedrock of ethical persuasion; the other party has to believe completely that you have told and always will tell the truth, even when it’s difficult."- Persuasion, page 62

Do you ever feel tempted to shade the truth or lie by omission? (Think “first date”!) Arlene urges us to resist at all cost. She describes how your reputation is your most valuable asset to persuading others. Think about it. You often are asking the other party to deviate from a preconceived notion and take a different path, maybe even take a leap of faith. That leap is possible only when they feel they can rely on you completely. Even one small indiscretion could irreparably damage that trust.

Arlene shows us that successful persuasion comes from a place of honesty, authenticity and reciprocity. Long term, honesty is not only the best policy it is also the most persuasive one.

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Insight #2


"Mistakes are an inevitable part of the equation of achievement."- Persuasion, page 229

An overarching theme throughout Persuasion is the benefit of failure. Dickinson writes about her mistakes because they are the most memorable, with the greatest learning opportunities, she ruminates.

How you think about mistakes impacts your success. Dickinson helps us think of mistakes as learning opportunities to gain the powerful “growth mindset”. When we have this mindset, we believe that intelligence can be transformed through effort. We are more likely to keep trying until we succeed.

For example, while she is arming us with the right attitude and focus to persuade, she warns us there will still be failure. The changing dynamics and infinite variables when dealing with people make it impossible to create a guaranteed successful influential plan.

The story you tell yourself about mistakes is key. Try to think like:

  • Henry Ford: “Failure provides the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently.”
  • Thomas Edison: “I didn’t fail one thousand times. The light bulb was an invention with one thousand steps.”
  • Oprah Winfrey: “I only got the opportunity to co-host a talk show because I had failed at news.”

Simply ask yourself “What can I learn from this?” and “How can I improve?” and pull up your socks and try again.

“If you can stop thinking about your own need for self-gratification, it’s much easier to understand what’s driving other people and to figure out how to make their goals compatible with yours. At the end of the day, that’s persuasion.”

And anyone can try it…. In just about any situation in business and life.

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Arlene Dickinson

Arlene Dickinson is one of Canada’s most renowned independent marketing communications entrepreneurs.

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