The Art of Persuasion


NOV. 28, 2017

What would you prefer: being liked or being right?

A while back I found this question online when I was researching questions in preparation for an upcoming job interview. The question struck me because it seemed to reflect an intriguing dilemma: if you’re trying to convince someone they’re wrong and you’re right about something, they’ll probably end up not liking you. So if you want someone to like you, do you have to give up the prospect of winning any arguments?

It seems like it has to be one or the other: accuracy or popularity, but not both. And it makes sense — remember the last time someone proved you were completely wrong about something? How did it make you feel? I’m guessing you weren’t feeling an overwhelming urge to give that person a loving hug, because nobody likes to be on the losing end of, well, anything.

Losing by Winning

In a work environment this dichotomy between correctness and likeability can have higher stakes.

You spend a lot of time with your coworkers, maybe around 40 hours a week or more, so of course you want to build good relationships with them. But your reputation, effectiveness, and maybe even your job security can hinge on you being right, especially when it comes to crucial business decisions or accuracy in details. Who knows, coming out on the winning end of an important argument might even get you a step closer to that promotion you’ve been eyeing.

The problem is, if you win an argument then it means someone else lost. And as we’ve already established, nobody likes to be wrong, especially when it’s in front of your peers and boss. Trounce someone in a debate during a meeting and you shouldn’t be surprised if that coworker doesn’t speak to you for the rest of the day.

Winning an argument is great for a short-term victory, but you may have shot yourself in the foot over the long term. If you insist on verbally duking it out with your teammates on a regular basis, you’ll end up creating a negative atmosphere where, eventually, nobody wants to work with you. And if your boss notices how toxic the air is around your team, that promotion might be getting farther away instead of inching closer.

Be Liked First, Be Right Later

There’s a better way to get your facts across without sacrificing your relationships: don’t focus on being right at all. At least, not at first.

Put your time and energy into building relationships and increasing trust. Being charming and likeable aren’t easy skills to learn, but it can be done.

Learn to Listen

Work on developing your interpersonal skills by getting to know the people around you, learning what makes them tick, and genuinely showing you care about them. Listen more than you speak, and when you’re listening actually focus on what the other person is saying, rather than just waiting for your turn to speak.

When your coworker tells you about how exhausted she is because her sick child kept her up half the night, resist the temptation to jump in with a similar incident from your own life. Instead, be sympathetic and keep the focus on her until she’s finished her story. Be genuinely interested in what other people are saying, and you’ll find it easier to be a good listener.

Consider How You Say It

Also, when it’s time to disagree with someone in your life, remember that how you say something is just as important as what you’re saying. The words you choose and the approach you take can spell the difference between an outright rejection of everything you’re saying and thoughtful consideration that, just maybe, you might have a point.

If your teammate argues that the team project needs to go in a certain direction you don’t agree with, don’t make it into a fight of conflicting wills. Rather, try exploring options and point out the benefits of considering different possibilities. It’s fine to disagree, but if you position your opinion as a solution-focused discussion rather than a battle, you’ll foster a better relationship with your coworker.

Be a Storyteller

People love stories. One of the reasons why is because stories create emotional connections, allowing us to see through the eyes of others. Weave an enticing story throughout your argument and you might have a better chance of persuading your audience. Craft a narrative and pull your listeners into the story by taking them through all the twists and turns, then guide them to the final outcome, and if your story is interesting enough they’ll follow along every step of the way.

All of these interpersonal skills will pay off in the end. People who know, trust, and like you are more likely to listen to what you have to say. They’ll be more open to your ideas, and more inclined to let you persuade them.

Master the art of effective persuasion and you’ll add a tool to your personal skills toolbox that’ll benefit you for the rest of your life. 


Written by Paul Meen Park
Published Nov. 28, 2017

Feature image: Nik Macmillan