The Science of Persuasion: How to Get People to Agree With What You Say

“A large state does not behave at all like a gigantic municipality” – Nassim Nicholas Taleb

science of persuasion

What does this statement make you think? Disagree at all? When I first read that line, I thought “Oh really? Here are some reasons why a large state could in fact behave like a gigantic municipality...” I was inclined to find fault with the statement even if there is some merit.

But it’s not the author’s fault: persuasion is hard. Here are some of the most fascinating studies, that if we just glance at them, make us believe that we almost don’t trust anyone:

Studies have shown how little people generally trust strangers. Surprisingly, studies have even shown that people trust loved ones even less than strangers, suggesting that even familiarity doesn’t compel us to trust people or believe what they say. Furthermore, the fact that people are subject to the false-consensus bias – we tend to believe that people agree with us when they do not – obscures when we need to be persuasive.

This exacerbates the divide between stakeholders with different perspectives. It also makes it harder to persuade people because we may not realize that they even need to be persuaded. Let’s take this example from a recent study at Yale:

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The Psychology of Language: Which Words Matter the Most When We Talk

One of the things I fuss about a lot (especially at Buffer) are words—very simple words, in fact. Should it say “Hi” or “Hey?” Should it be “cheers” or “thanks?” How about “but” or “and?

There are many occasions when Joel and I sit over one line and change it multiple times, until we feel it really sits right. This is partly to improve our metrics for click rate and others. It is also to simply create the right emotion. The one key question we ask ourselves is:

“How does this make you feel?”

The question might sound very obvious. And yet, it’s a very different question to say for example “Which message do you want to send?” or “What is the content of this announcement?” By always focusing on how it will make someone feel whenever we write even a single line, we immediately improved the amount of responses we got from our users.

Recently we explored how much sleep do we really need to work productively. Let’s do the same with language. We’ll dig in to how our brain works and expose some of the most persuasive words in english:

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