Covert Persuasion – Psychological Tactics & Tricks By Kevin Hogan & James Speakman

Kevin Hogan is a public speaker and corporate trainer. He teaches, trains, and speaks about persuasion, influence, body language, emotional intelligence, communication, and motivation. He is the author of The Science of Influence. James Speakman is a professional speaker, corporate trainer, and President of Speakman & Associates LLC, a company committed to sharing the power of persuasion with salespeople and others whose careers depend on their powers of persuasion.  


The most effective kind of persuasion is Covert Persuasion. By covert, we don’t mean that the tactics are sneaky or underhanded. Instead, they are completely ethical, but so subtle and seamless that no one will even notice that you are using them — and yet, they will convince people to make the choice you want them to make. Covert Persuasion is about creating change in the mind of your clients or customers without them being aware that the changes are occurring. These changes can lead them to buy your product, try your ser- vice, vote for your candidate, or endorse your idea. One of the best tools to begin this change in the customer’s mind is using the right words. For example, in an experiment in the 1970s by leading memory researcher Elizabeth Loftus, people viewed slides of an accident between a pedestrian and a car. They were shown a slide of a red Datsun at a yellow yield sign. The group was asked, “Did you see another car pass the Datsun at the stop sign?” Note that the picture actually showed a yield sign, but the question asked about a stop sign. Once they heard the question, most of the subjects remembered a stop sign instead of a yield sign. By changing one word in the question, the questioner changed the memory of what they had seen with their own eyes. To use Covert Persuasion, follow these eight steps: 1. Identify a targeted problem or situation. This is something your sales prospect no longer wants to experience, such as high costs, inventory spoilage, or ineffective advertising. It can be anything that isn’t going right, and that your product or service is well-suited to solve. 2. Help your customers see that not addressing the problem or situation will impose painful costs. There is powerful psychology behind this tactic. Trigger the pain button first, before you even begin to talk about how your product can help. 3. Ask your customers to identify a preferred outcome. It is critical to have them choose a better outcome. Sometimes this is triggered by a simple question by you, such as “What would you prefer to have happen?” or “What would be a perfect outcome for you?” 4. Ask your customers to identify the consequences of the new outcome. This is very important in helping them to accept the new outcome. Ask, “What would this new outcome mean for you and your company?” When they answer, they are forming a new thought direction that will lead them to your product or service. 5. Confirm that this new outcome is what they really want. Sometimes customers will tell you what they think you want to hear. To truly persuade them, they have to be honest about what would satisfy them. 6. Be certain that the new outcome is truly going to be good for your customers. It doesn’t help your reputation to win a short-term sale that is a bad fit for the customer. Instead, you want the customer to benefit from all the features of your product or service. 7. Avoid the temptation to be judgmental about negative customer responses. The customer might have a different point of view than you do. Take time to understand and relate to customers. Once you do this, their responses may seem to make more sense. 8. Never tell customers that they’re wrong. When people are told they’re wrong, they tend to get defensive and try to prove that they are right. They may end up clinging more tightly to the same position. For example, don’t tell them that buying your competitor’s product last year was a mistake. They will immediately wonder if buying from you would be a mistake. In the next section, we’ll examine why the first word out of a prospect’s mouth tends to be “No!”. We’ll also look at how you can turn the initial negativity into an ultimate “Yes!”


Why do sales targets so regularly respond to an offer with a resounding “No?” Because it’s an instant reaction, one based on a desire not to get burned once again by a bad deal. To move prospects from no to yes, you need to understand how people make decisions, how they remember the past, and how they see the future. Most people remember peak experiences — especially dramatic events that turn out badly, such as product failures or car crashes. They also tend not to remember how things unfolded, but rather how they ended. In other words, when people have a good experience that ends badly, they remember it as a bad experience. When they have a bad experience that ends in a good way, they remember it more positively than if it was bad from start to finish. Here’s a way to apply Covert Persuasion when talking to a customer about experiences with a competitor’s product. Elicit both the peak experience and the last experience. Why? Because if the customers were totally satisfied with their past experiences, they wouldn’t be talking to you. However, you don’t want them to be afraid to make a purchase from you. So ask them to remember the last time they bought something that was a brilliant purchase. For people who lost money in the stock market, you can understand why they would resist an attempt to persuade them to invest in the market again. You simply can’t tell them to ignore the past. You must point out that they could lose money again, though it is more likely that they’ll get typical returns. The research in persuasion is clear: You must point out both possible futures to be successful. If you don’t at least acknowledge the possibility that the customer will lose money in the stock market, he will give in to his fear and choose not to invest. Then finish with a very clear picture of a very likely future. If you make it sound too good, you will both lose. The customer will feel manipulated, and will resist your offer. If you keep it realistic, there is an excellent chance that you will persuade him. Make the message clear: If he failed in the first half of the game, that’s all the more reason to try harder in the second half. Never let a bad result in the past turn your client into a non-client. To persuade people to go from no to yes, you have to convert their fear of saying yes to a fear of not saying yes. For example, if you’re trying to convince someone to quit smoking, the smoker will resist because of the fear of the unknown outcome: that is, a life without the comforting routine of a cigarette at regular intervals. To overcome this fear, you have to substitute a worse fear, as follows: “Imagine that you keep smoking those cigarettes, and what you see is your kids and your grandkids coming to look at you in your casket, crying because they can’t speak with you anymore because you committed a slow suicide with tobacco. Your face is shriveled and they will never think of you in the same way.” That is a very scary scenario for people with children. Now, follow it up with: “And if you cut to half a pack of cigarettes each day this month, and to a cigarette each day next month, and finally throw the pack away, wouldn’t it be something to see yourself healthy and happy, having fun playing with those grandkids?” What happened here? You scared the hell out of the smoker and then gave him a specific set of instructions to follow. That’s persuasive. The lesson here is simple: If you’re going to use fear to change people’s behavior or encourage them to buy your product, you must also include a step-by-step set of instructions in your message in order for it to be successful. COVERT STRATEGIES FOR CHANGING BELIEFS After you successfully persuade someone to do what you want, the other person should be glad that they took your advice, whether the advice is to buy a product or change his behavior. But that’s not always what happens, because of a phenomenon called option attachment. For example, consider a woman who is choosing between two men, who have different personalities, hobbies, jobs, and incomes. Each of them would be a very good option. She ponders the dilemma every day for months. No matter who she chooses, one thing is certain, even though she’s unaware of it: As soon as she chooses, the other man will appear to be a much better choice than he appeared just days ago. You’d think that she’d feel good about her choice: relieved, happy, and comfortable. But actually, the opposite is the case. This is what happens with your customers when they think about your product or service, whether you’re selling cars, investments, or anything else. When they think too long about their options, they feel that choosing is losing. The problem is that when people can choose between two things, they feel disappointed when they realize that they have let the other one go. The woman in the example will think the man she dumped is more attractive, and she’ll feel a sense of loss. Research studies show that it doesn’t even make much difference whether the person has actually experienced both options, or just imagined them in detail. When the person chooses one option, the other option becomes more attractive. It makes no difference whether any of this is logical or not. Obviously, the woman isn’t going to end up with both men. And remember, the man she chose is a very good choice. But, it doesn’t matter. The other man will look much better than he ever did because she “owned” him in her mind for months. Now she has lost him because of her decision. Besides the length of time that the person takes to consider the options, the other factor in the feeling of loss is the degree to which she felt attached to the other option during the deliberation stage of the decision. To counteract option attachment, take two steps: First, don’t allow your customer to develop a sense of attachment to more than one option in the deliberation stage. Otherwise, the customer will feel a sense of loss. Make sure the deliberation is fast. Second, if you must explore more than one option with your customer, move the customer quickly from the less attractive option to the more attractive one. In other words, don’t let customers begin to feel a strong sense of connection with something they won’t end up getting. Discuss an option, and then make it obvious why it needs to be dismissed. You can also use option attachment to your advantage. When a customer is resisting all of your efforts at persuasion, you can build a sense of attachment that will make your product or service hard to refuse. A classic approach that generally works is “experiential influence.” This sales technique was once known as “The Puppy Dog Close.” That’s when the pet salesperson tells the prospect to take the adorable puppy home — and then return it if they don’t like it. Similarly, you can overcome resistance to your product by telling the person to take it home and give it a test run. This is why car salesmen offer test drives, and software firms let you use their products for free during a trial period. Once the customer feels a sense of ownership, it’s hard to give up that feeling without experiencing a sense of loss. Also, you can use imaging behavioral scripts. Those are images that you provide to move a prospect toward saying yes. Suppose you’re a CPA and have a client facing a tax crisis. You present the following picture: “Imagine walking into that IRS audit with someone there who will answer all the questions so you don’t get pressured. You stay calm. I take the heat. And we keep your tax bill in check.” Clients that visualize themselves performing a certain behavior will modify their perception of it. Also, the more often a person imagines a behavioral script, the more likely they’ll change their mind in the desired direction. Overall, there are two fundamental ways people use to persuade others. One works, and the other doesn’t. The one that doesn’t work is to confront people with facts and statistics that run counter to their beliefs. They’ll reject the new information and intensify their beliefs, no matter how wrongheaded. Consider people who play the Power Ball lottery. Statistically, their chances of winning a boatload of money are much less than their chances of dying in a plane crash, but they keep playing. They keep playing because they’ve seen 10 people who have won it all on TV. What they haven’t seen is the millions of people each week who tear up their losing tickets. It’s futile to try to convince them to change their beliefs by reminding them of the odds of winning. Persuasion that does work begins with the recognition that beliefs can change inside a person when something outside starts to trigger a transformation. Practically speaking, causal arguments — those that emphasize cause-and-effect — work, while non-causal, statistical arguments don’t. For example, tell prospects that one of their competitors bought your product — the cause — and it sharply increased productivity — the effect. Granted, many causal arguments are full of holes. Some of them tend to be popular with psychics — “I said you’d have good luck and you did!” — and other dubious figures. But the fact remains: Statistical arguments, including ones with a strong basis in fact, tend to perplex most people. Their point seems to be: Don’t confuse me with the facts. The reality is that most people would rather fight for their beliefs than switch them. That’s especially true when they’ve affirmed their beliefs publicly. We see that illustrated by the Law of Consistency. When people choose something, write something down, or say something, they tend to stick with the decision. Because people don’t like cognitive dissonance, they simply pick the thought, decision, or belief they currently hold and eliminate the rest without further consideration. In other words, once a person has publicly said, “I’ll never do that,” they normally never do. A recent research study asked people to make decisions among various choices. The subjects were divided into three groups: Group A was asked to remember their decisions. Group B was asked to write their decisions on a magic slate and then pull the sheet up, erasing their decision. Group C was asked to write down their decisions on paper with ink and then hand them in to the researchers. Which group stuck with their decisions? Group C. The lesson is to get your customer to write things down as he participates in the sales process. He could write down anything from goals for the coming year, to what he would really like in a car, a house, a stock portfolio, or a vacation time-share package. The key is to get a pen in the client’s hand and have him write. The next part of our discussion will reveal even more tactics you can use to persuade customers and colleagues to do what you want them to do.


Covert Persuasion consists of dozens of proven tactics. In this part of our discussion, we’ll look in some depth at several of them. Not all tactics work in every situation. It’s up to you to choose the ones best suited to your needs and your customers. One tactic is to build strong rapport with your audience. Essentially, that means to make sure they like you so much as a person that they will respond to your message in a genuinely positive manner. One tactic of building rapport is sharing a part of yourself with the prospect. A little personal vulnerability and candor can go a long way toward building trust. You can use content to build rapport if you take the time to find out what the other person is interested in, and using it to strengthen the bond between the two of you. Another tactic is to synchronize with the other individual or group. In other words, look and act as much like your clients as you can. People tend to like other people who resemble them. If you’re dressed in business clothes and the other person is in jeans and a t-shirt, there could be a disconnect. You can also synchronize your voice, your breathing, and your posture to align with the other person. For example, if the other person is upset and has an edge to his voice, don’t try to cheer him up with a smile and cheerful story. That doesn’t work. If your target has an edge in his voice, let your voice have an edge, even if just for a moment. This vocal pacing will put you in sync with your client. Eventually, you can lead your client out of his negative state and into a more receptive state of mind. You can also match the target’s rate of speech, or words he’s speaking per minute. But don’t copy the verbal ticks of your target. If he’s stuttering or saying “ummm” all the time, don’t imitate him or he will realize that you’re using tactics to persuade him, and the effort will fail. Another covert tactic is to synchronize your breathing with the customer. This will literally put you in the same rhythm as your client. Your client will sense that rhythm and feel more comfortable with you. Research shows that simply by pacing another person’s breathing, inhaling when they do, exhaling when they do, increases the rapport between two people. That result holds true even if this is the only Covert Persuasion technique you use; it’s that powerful. Unlike pacing the other person’s breathing, pacing someone’s posture is much simpler. But be careful. If you assume the exact same body position and posture as your target, he may feel uncomfortable. You want your client to feel so comfortable that his defenses go down. But again, you don’t want your clients to feel that you are mimicking them. Once you get in sync with your client, you’re ready to take the lead. Alter your body language, your voice tone, rate of speech, or breathing. You’ll know the other person is following you when he makes a similar movement or alters his voice in a similar manner. Use a more enthusiastic tone in your voice when you guide the conversation to your product. When you notice that the client follows your lead with a more enthusiastic voice, an increased rate of speech, and a higher or lower tone of voice, you can feel assured that you have successfully developed rapport. If your target is in a “stuck state” and your persuasion attempt isn’t working, get him to move around. It’s a proven fact that emotion can come from motion. Stand up, walk around the room, or take the person to lunch. By changing the target’s physical position, you can change his state of mind. Another tactic is to induce reciprocity. The entire process of building rapport is built on the foundation of concern, compassion, caring, interest, and a desire for the well being of your client. Pacing and leading is a process that creates comfort for you and your target because you are moving along at a pace that is right for your target. The entire process could be as quick as 20 seconds, or as long as an hour. After you’ve established rapport, the next step is to build your presentation. Begin by giving your target something of perceived value. He will feel compelled to return your generosity, either directly or by referring someone else to you. A variation on this tactic is to offer to help the client solve a problem. Can you make a phone call for him as a referral? Can you bring more business to his store by taking 50 business cards? What can you do to help him that is above and beyond what he expects? Helping the other person creates a personal connection, which makes people feel comfortable enough to drop all their defenses. Another effective tactic is to make a damaging admission. That means acknowledging a minor weakness or small flaw in the case you’re making. This accomplishes two important things: First, it makes you appear far more trustworthy. Second, it allows your target to feel at ease since you are doing his job of finding drawbacks in the proposal. A related tactic is to build credibility by giving some credit to the counter-argument, to the other side. It’s okay to admit that the other companies also make a good product. But while you’re acknowledging the other product’s value, you have every right to indicate — and to prove — that yours is even better. You can also get the target on your side by pointing out a common enemy. Nothing binds two people together like an enemy they have in common. Find your target’s enemy and align yourself with his viewpoint. Does he hate the IRS? Do the same people try to hurt his business and yours? There are three kinds of common enemies: First, there are internal enemies. All businesses face the rising costs of everything they buy, and the constant pressure to sell more every day to cover those rising expenses. Second, there are external enemies like the competition. You may find a common enemy in a competing company or even another country. Third, there are personal enemies. You may be able to form an inner company alliance against a particular person so that he does not advance. Also use the tactic of telling a short story about someone very much like your client. Collect a number of stories about people who have become your clients in the past or followed your business advice. Tell your target why he or she reminds you of the previous customer. If the target feels that the other person’s situation is similar to his own situation, he will mentally picture himself in your story and will want to do what the person in the story did, such as buying your product or agreeing with your idea. You can also persuade people by knocking their socks off with an astonishing fact. Make the biggest claim you can substantiate. By giving people new information, you’re making it easier for them to justify buying from you today even though they never bought from you in the past. With the new information, they can feel comfortable making a new decision. Another key Covert Persuasion tactic is to build unshakable credibility. The best way to do that is to accept the other person’s point-of-view, perhaps saying something like: “In general, I couldn’t agree with you more.” What you’re doing is breaking down the prospect’s defenses. If he finds that you basically agree with him, he’ll perceive that you’re interested in a fair, just outcome. If the prospect’s views continue to keep him from accepting your argument, then use the next tactic, one known as FFF. The letters refer to feel, felt, and found. Here’s an example of the technique at work. You say, “I understand how you feel about that. Many of my customers once felt that very same way. But when they looked closer, they found my view made a lot of sense.” FFF works because it establishes an emotional connection with your targets. It also says they’re not the only ones who have felt the way they do, and that makes people feel more comfortable. Finally, the technique helps prospects share in the discovery of a solution. Yet another tactic is to rely on the power of the number three. Use three points, or presuppositions, in a row. Look at it as a way of almost overwhelming the listener but doing so in a controlled way. One of the three points should be clearly true and the others perhaps more open to debate. Lead with the strong point and the listener’s brain will tend to conclude that all three points have veracity. One tactic may qualify as the ultimate covert weapon: the use of space. That refers to making use of your immediate environment, including everything from what room you’re in, to when the meeting takes place, to how close you are to the other person. It’s an easy concept when you think about a President inviting someone to the Oval Office. People who visit it feel awed and humbled, and that of course reinforces the President’s ability to persuade. So, meet your target at a time and place of your choosing. Also, understand how your body language can put the other person at ease. Above all, don’t get too close physically to your prospect. In this regard, think about how unpleasant it is in a very crowded elevator. Another tactic is to use the power of understatement. If your mutual fund has a track record of a 12 percent return per year over the last 10 years, then understate that by saying, “Now, if you average 10 percent per year. . .” For 10 years, your fund has earned a 12 percent return, but you are being conservative for your client, and he knows it and appreciates it. Another way to use numbers to persuade customers is to be precise, and then beat your precision. For example, if you know that a certain automobile is going to get your client 19 miles per gallon, tell him that. Then, tell him a secret: “But if you use a certain brand of oil, you can add an extra three miles per gallon of gas and that translates into hundreds of dollars saved per year.” Being specific adds credibility and believability to your entire argument. People unconsciously feel better when they hear very specific information, rather than round numbers. Plus, everyone is looking for solutions that will save time and effort. So promise to get every thing done faster, easier, and better. Combine all three promises for an irresistible offer. For example, “You’ll get it this afternoon instead of next week, plus I’ll do all the work so you won’t have to, and the result will be much better than the way it was.” Finally, one of the most powerful tactics is to use hypnotic language patterns. To use this tactic, state what you want the person to do, but precede that command with words that make it seem as if you are not telling the person what to do. Consider these examples: “I wouldn’t tell you to buy this car; that’s your decision.” “I wouldn’t tell you to invest more money in stocks; you need to figure that out on your own.” “You don’t have to invest in several funds; one or two is just fine.” “I don’t know if you feel that you should decide now so you don’t lose out.” Practice using phrases like these in as many different work settings as possible, and watch what happens. People will begin complying with more of your requests than they ever have in the past.


Regardless of the tactics you use, certain words are much more persuasive than others, and they’re the ones you should use in your advertisements and conversations. In English, the 12 most persuasive words are: You, Money, Save, Results, Health, Easy, Love, Discovery, Proven, New, Safety, and Guarantee. These 12 words evoke strong feelings. They get people’s attention and interest. In marketing, other important words include: Your, Free, Yes, Fast, How, Secrets, Sale, Now, Change, Power, Announcing, Benefits, Exciting, Scientific, Technology, and Solution. Also, when answering a customer’s question, use the powerful word because, and you’ll find people agreeing with you much more often. The word because, and the ones that follow it in a sentence, establish a causal relationship, a connection between one thing and another. Here are some examples of how you might use powerful words. “This scientifically proven program includes three easy-to-use techniques that will change your life.” Another illustration is: “Would you like to save money?” A third example is: “How would you like to discover the secrets of this exciting new technology?” The point is to use words that truly resonate with customers and prospects.


Covert persuasion works best when you predetermine the desired outcome. That principle begins working at the earliest moments of life. Think about it: When you were a baby, you got hungry — and thus wanted to get your parents’ attention. To do so, you cried, and your parents fed you. That’s a very basic example of The Focused Outcome Mindset. The baby has a desire to fill the hunger pain, so it acts — cries — in order to get exactly what it wants: food. Remember, persuasion begins in the mind. That means the clearer the idea you have about exactly what you want, the better your chances of getting it. The thing that distances successful people from the pack is that they have a mindset focused on outcomes. They know exactly what they want to get. Succeeding at anything requires discipline. That means a 100 percent effort, constant concentration, and a drive to settle for nothing less than the desired outcome. The Focused Outcome Mindset is the ability to imagine the goal in your mind, formulate the steps you need to achieve it, and then take the actions necessary. To achieve focus, you can rely on The Urgent and Important Matrix. Using the matrix involves making a prioritized list of where each person, event, or item in your life falls. You must decide whether something belongs in: Quadrant I: urgent but not important. Quadrant II: urgent and important. Quadrant III: not urgent and not important. Quadrant IV: not urgent but important. The key to using the matrix effectively is to know that there is a point before someone else’s priority gets onto your to-do list, a point at which you get to decide. You get to ask yourself, “How urgent and important is this to me?” You must make all the decisions. You decide the priority of each item, person, or event in your day. Other people may make suggestions, but only you can decide where each item belongs in your matrix. Focused Outcome is a concept that stems from the ability to take responsibility for your own life. Once you realize that you are in total control, you can focus on the path that will get you to the result that you want.


In this section, we’ll discuss how to influence people by telling stories. Coherent stories have more than a beginning, middle, and end. They also have a point — or moral — and that can work as a powerful persuasive tool. Covert Persuasion incorporates itself very well in stories. It makes the story more likely to achieve its intended result: influencing others to share your way of thinking. Unfortunately, most stories fail at persuasion because they lack focus and thus tend to be rambling and pointless. In any meaningful communication, the critical point is to capture and concentrate the audience’s attention. To do so, you need to share information in a simple, compelling fashion that appeals to people’s innate curiosity. In using a story to make your point, keep the following factors in mind. First, you must have an intention, a reason why you’re telling a particular story. Are you telling it to make the person laugh, or to convince him that you’re smart, or to sell him on your idea? Second, know what you want the other person to think or feel. For example, you might want him to know that you are interested in his problem and you’ve helped other people with the same problem. Third, know your purpose in being with a particular person or group. This isn’t the same as your intention for this specific story. It’s the point of your being where you are with this person. What is your plan in order to persuade him that you’re credible, interested, concerned, and want him to succeed? Fourth, infuse the story with powerful self-revelations. That’s essential because you have to convey your values and beliefs. Relate your story to their own experiences. The stories you tell should be about yourself and/or past clients. Covertly, however, you must ensure the story also is highly relevant to the listener. You tell the story because you want the listener to know who you really are. Done well, self-revelation can build trust. Fifth, to grab the audience’s attention, discuss a subject about which they will agree passionately with you. Subjects could include cutting costs, investing for the future, adding new customers, or retaining current ones. Sixth, outline exactly how your product or idea directly affects their business or quality of life. Great products — from computers to cell phones — save time and enhance lives. Seventh, let the listener know how great you are, but be humble. Don’t tell people that you’re smart, or honest, or considerate. Quote someone else in your story who told you that you’re smart, or honest, or considerate. For example, “The customer told me, ‘You’re incredible. I’ve never experienced such great service.'” Eighth, explain how other clients have benefited from using your product or service effectively — in concrete, factual, and verifiable terms. Perhaps they increased productivity or profits dramatically, or reduced employee turnover, or increased customer retention. Overall, don’t tell a story unless it places you in a context to which the audience can relate. The ideal is for you to have listeners nodding their heads and saying, “Yes, I’m an awful lot like the speaker.” Telling a story that grips the listener’s attention is an effective way to persuade — and to sell. Another persuasion technique is the use of pertinent questions, and that’s the subject of the next section.


The entire trick in persuasion is to help the other person develop his own idea –- which, of course, is really your idea. You let him claim it, own it, and then he will act on it. A simple tactic for getting people to own an idea is to use The Availability Factor. What this means is that a person’s judgment is clouded by what is most available to you. We see The Availability Factor at work in the massive coverage of plane crashes. It causes people to have an inordinate fear of air travel — even though it’s the safest form of transportation. In fact, you are statistically more likely to be kicked to death by a donkey than to die in a plane crash. But we don’t see or hear very many stories of people dying this way, so we fearairplanes more than we fear donkeys. In persuasion, what you’re trying to do is to make your product, situation, or idea highly available to your prospect. One way to do so is through media and advertising, and another way is through personal conversation, including the use of questions. People always stop what they’re doing to answer questions because they were raised to be polite, and ignoring a question is considered rude. That’s why, even if you are in the middle of an important discussion and someone interrupts you to ask what time it is, you feel compelled to answer. Also, people actually want to answer questions to show that they are knowledgeable. There are 10 important things a salesperson can accomplish with questions. First, they break an individual’s preoccupation and get immediate attention. Second, they put your listener in a receptive mood. Third, they allow your listener to use his own words. Fourth, they help sustain interest in your subject. Fifth, they reduce resistance to your message by bringing issues into the open. Sixth, they guide listeners toward the conclusion you desire. Seventh, they allow you to give credit to listeners for the quality of their thinking. Eighth, they enable you to bypass distractions, because follow-up questions help you keep your audience on track. Ninth, they help you take the edge off the sales pitch, because questions involve the customer in making the decision. Tenth, they build your self-confidence in your ability to start and control a conversation. Questions will have these positive effects if you follow the rules for asking them. One rule is that you shouldn’t ask questions if you aren’t pretty sure what the answer will be. Above all, don’t ask people highly technical questions where they may get embarrassed because they don’t know the answer. Another rule is to use leading questions whenever possible. These questions lead the listener toward the conclusion you want. For example, “Most people are buying the red ones while they’re still available. You’d probably like a red one too, right?” People will first silently answer your questions in their own minds. You are letting your audience lead themselves into the course of action you want them to take. Once they start this process, they will start agreeing. You have entered and directed their minds with questions, and they will change their own minds with their answers. Here are three questions that will help you to take control of your target’s brain: 1. Have you ever wondered how to get a better product at a lower price? 2. What’s most important to you in this kind of product? 3. In what ways would this product make your work easier?


You can’t sell effectively to specific people if you start out with unrealistic assumptions about humanity in general. Of course, there are exceptions to all generalizations, but most people share certain characteristics — and imperfections. Human nature sometimes helps in your persuasive efforts, but in other cases it can work against you. Here are 15 observations about people that will help you to use Covert Persuasion more effectively: 1. People don’t know how to ask great questions, partly because they’d rather pretend they already know the answer. To overcome this tendency, develop good questions to help guide prospects in the right direction. 2. Most people let their bad attitudes, developed over time, cloud their current judgments. Your approach should be to inject into your conversation powerful questions that can adjust the prospect’s point of view. For instance, you might ask a resistant customer: “Did you know there’s a new technology that overcomes the problem you’ve highlighted?” 3. People need help to visualize. To make it easier for them, use metaphors and analogies to connect your product or idea with something familiar to the customer. 4. People know what they don’t want. Your task is to help guide the exchange toward what they do want but may have trouble expressing. An excellent phrase to remember is, “I know you don’t know, but if you did know, what would it be?” A surprisingly high number of people will answer this question clearly. 5. Speed is the key to getting the job. Sometimes the customer will say yes if you can deliver what they want quickly. Force yourself to get it done in less time, by asking yourself, “What are seven ways I can get it done faster?” 6. Customers would rather take their business elsewhere than complain about a bad experience with your product. In that case, you must become super-sensitive to the treatment your clients are receiving. Ask them what would make the situation better. 7. Customers don’t know how your product solves their problem. It’s your job to find out what customers need — and once you know what they need, recommend a solution. 8. People have internal gauges, a feeling or instinct that tells them when something’s not right. The goal of selling should be to use persuasion to ensure that the customer ’s internal gauges tell him or her to buy. 9. Some prospects are time wasters. They’re the ones you should politely refer to competitors. Make them someone else’s headache, and concentrate on the people who are worth your time. 10. People feel a sense of entitlement. People approach businesses with an attitude of “You owe me!” The only way to respond is to treat everyone with honesty and fairness. 11. Perception is reality. The way you see the world might differ greatly from a client’s view. Ask questions that will help you to understand his perspective. 12. People tend to be lazy. They always look for the easiest way to do anything. This could mean that if it’s not easier to buy from you, there will be no sale. To persuade them, you must clearly show how buying now will help them avoid a costly, painful problem. Then, make it easy for them to buy. Do everything for them. Remember, if you require your prospects to do too many things, they will never become your customers. 13. People do more to avoid pain than they do to gain pleasure. Show the prospect what he will lose if he doesn’t take action now. 14. People don’t really listen; they wait to talk. This may be true of you as well. Convey interest and encourage the other person to talk more. Use questions to steer the conversation. And listen more than you talk. 15. People overpromise and underdeliver. Companies have good intentions, but they usually fall short of making the customer feel valued. They promise a lot, and then they deliver far less. Do the opposite: Underpromise and overdeliver. You’ll pleasantly surprise your customers, and they’ll tell everyone they know.


Not everyone works in sales, but we all sell something every day. Even if you’re not selling products or services, you must sell your ideas, your viewpoints, and most of all, yourself — as an honest, caring, informed individual. So let’s put together all the information we’ve covered. Remember, the fundamental goal of Covert Persuasion is to move your target person from where he is to where you want him to be. To help you stay focused, make a worksheet before you meet with a client, colleague, or any one else you want to persuade. Start by writing down your selfish goal: What exactly do you want as a perfect outcome? Next, list everyone involved, and where they are starting from: Are they skeptical about your product or idea, open-minded, or eager to agree with you? Then, list what you want them to believe, feel, and do as a result of your persuasion. Be sure to use the right words, questions, and stories to deliver your message. Remember the power of words like You, Money, Save, Results, Health, Easy, Love, Discovery, Proven, New, Safety, and Guarantee. Direct the other person’s thinking by using questions such as, “In what ways would this product make your work easier?” Don’t forget that when you ask a question, you are in control of the thought processes of the other person. Take advantage of the hypnotic language patterns, such as “I wouldn’t tell you to. . .” “You don’t have to. . .” and “You might want to. . .” Finally, go through all of the Covert Persuasion tactics, and choose the ones you are going to use. That’s why you’ll want to refer to this summary again and again, so you can stay familiar with all the tricks and techniques. When you use Covert Persuasion, the other person won’t have any conscious idea that you are persuading him. He will feel ownership of the decisions you lead him to make. And, as we know, people feel more committed to decisions they make than to anything you tell them. This is important, because you don’t want to just win the sale; you want to win a customer for life.]]>

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