How To Convince Someone You Are Right?

Four essential elements in the art of persuasion.

Posted Sep 30, 2014

1) Acknowledge the limits of your argument. 

Begin by saying you may not be right, that you don’t know everything. Admit your limitations, the limitations of your argument, even present the opposite point of view or the point of view your interlocutor might hold or have in mind. Remember Montaigne, the great essayist, whose motto was “Que sais-je?” What do I know?

2) Create mystery and suspense. Keep your listener listening.

Don’t tell all immediately. Don’t use your most conclusive or controversial point right away. Work up to your conclusion slowly taking your listener or reader along for the ride. Develop your argument step by step, hinting at what is up ahead. Create a little mystery, and perhaps even some confusion. Someone once told me “If you can’t bedazzle with brilliance baffle with bullshit”. Suggest there is something secret or at least unusual or scandalous up ahead. You have a unique point of view.

Think of Freud’s preface to the Dora case and his explanation that “the complete elucidation of a case of hysteria is bound to involve the revelation of intimacies and the betrayal of secrets.” Who could not read on? You want your listener to listen if he/she is to be convinced.

3) Use convincing and relevant details.

Back up your argument with some convincing details which will lead the listener ineluctably to your conclusion. Use everyday life: sounds, smells, gestures, words. Make sure your details are unique and original and smack of the truth. Don’t try to make everything fit too perfectly. Life is full of incongruities, coincidences, confusion, and that which seems impossible. Again acknowledge anything that the listener might find difficult to admit. “I know this is difficult to believe.” The trick is to pay attention to your listener or reader and to imagine what he or she might be thinking in reaction to what you are saying. Watch his/her face, gestures; listen to her words.

You can even use tricks as Freud does, saying so brilliantly, referring to young Dora’s bisexuality in the Dora case, that having tried to prove she is in love with Herr K, if he were a writer of fiction he would leave her love for Frau K out!

4) Balance authority with modesty

In the end what is essential is to strike a balance between your own conviction and your modesty. You need to convince by your thorough knowledge of the situation, by sincerely believing what you are trying to prove, but not to the point of antagonizing your listener with arrogance or lack of self-awareness.

Sheila Kohler is the author of thirteen books amongst them "Cracks," "Love Child" and "Becoming Jane Eyre" and most recently "Dreaming for Freud." 

Dreaming for Freud: A Novel by Sheila Kohler Penguin Books buy nowLove Child: A Novel by Sheila Kohler Penguin Books buy now