The idea of being persuasive can have a very negative connotation. You might immediately think of the used car salesmen you always see in movies, touting larger-than-life promises (read: lies) and saying or doing anything to get the other person to buy in.
But here’s the thing: Knowing how to convince another person of something is important, whether you’re trying to pitch a product or idea at your job, selling yourself in an interview, or just having a friendly debate with friends. And the good (yet surprising) news is that the people who pull it off best aren’t over the top or sleazy. Instead, they put you at ease with their confidence, they listen well, and they guide you in a positive direction—all the while leaving the ball in your court.
It should go without saying that being able to make a great case and get a “Heck, yes!” is a skill valuable in any job—regardless of the industry. So to help you become better at it, we sat down with a true expert: David Brennan, who helps employees at DriveTime—one of the nation’s largest used car dealerships—learn how to sell in a totally non-stereotypical way.
Know What You’re Talking About
When someone comes off as pushy in their persuasion, it’s often because they really don’t buy into their own idea and are overcompensating for this insecurity.
Brennan’s all too aware that this approach fails every time—it’s why he believes in the power of buy-in: “If you’re not completely bought into yourself or what you’re selling, the person that you’re talking to is going to feel ‘sold,’ versus wanting to buy into your idea.” To resonate with people, you need to be comfortable in your own skin and whatever you’re trying to convince them of.
So, step one is to educate yourself and make sure you feel incredibly confident in whatever you’re talking about. This might involve asking yourself (or others) some hard questions. If you’re presenting a proposal for a new project, try to find (and solve) holes in your idea before you get up in front of others. If you’re selling a product but really aren’t sure how to use one of the features, ask one of your colleagues to give you a demo.
Whatever it is, take time in advance to feel like you really have deep knowledge of whatever you’re discussing.
Practice Reflective Listening
Being persuasive is really less about you and more about your audience. By listening, you build trust and understanding, and making the other person more open to hearing what you have to say.
As Brennan explains, “Being a listener is 100% the trick to not coming off as sleazy. You don’t want to be the slick-talking guy who says all the right things… In order to be persuasive, you need to take the time to really listen. You need to understand: What is this person asking of me?”
This kind of listening isn’t passive. It doesn’t mean keeping quiet—it means nurturing a dialogue, mirroring body language, and keeping the spotlight off yourself.
For example, when Brennan coaches first-time salespeople, he offers a simple practice that helps them break the ice: parroting the customer’s language.
Whatever the customer says, they repeat back as a question.
Customer: “I’m here to buy a car for my daughter—she needs to get to her softball games.”
Salesperson: “Oh, your daughter plays softball?”
Customer: “Yeah, you know she’s really good! She’s on a travel team now and she’s going to be driving all over. I really want to make sure she’s driving safely.”
While this may initially sound repetitive to you (and perhaps a little reminiscent of a friend teasing you in elementary school), it’s actually incredibly productive. Because in just a few minutes, the salesperson identified exactly what the customer needed (a car for his daughter) and his primary motivation (a concern for her safety). Now, he has the information he needs to provide a solution that’s actually valuable.
This is a good approach to try whenever you want to persuade an audience, whether that’s a hiring manager in an interview or your friends at happy hour. It really is as simple as keeping the spotlight on the other person.
Learn More About the Sales Program at DriveTime
Solve a Problem
Once you really understand what the person you’re trying to persuade cares about, highlight how your idea supports their need.
For example, in a job interview, that means identifying a team’s biggest challenge and framing yourself as the person who’s qualified to make that problem go away:
It sounds like you’ve been inundated with customer service requests. I know that I could minimize response time because I just cut it in half at my current employer. I overhauled our current system and retrained employees—it really worked for us.
And in the case of the father shopping for his daughter’s car, it means talking solely about safety because that’s the customer’s motivation for a purchase:
I know this car’s at the top of your price range. I’m showing it to you because we just put on new tires, and—unlike other models from this manufacturer—it has anti-lock brakes. Plus, it consistently receives the highest safety rating.
Notice that neither of these include over-the-top promises or shady suggestions, they simply honestly (and confidently) explain the value of your idea to the person you’re talking to. From there, you give a person the opportunity to make their problem disappear—quickly!
By projecting confidence, practicing reflective listening, and solving a problem, you actually build meaningful relationships. Rather than convincing people through force, you empathize with someone’s needs and offer advice based on your expertise. It’s an inherently collaborative process that benefits everyone—and doesn’t have to be the slightest bit sleazy.