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Teaching the Fine Art of Persuasion

Communication lies at the center of contemporary culture. It extends beyond interpersonal dialogue that structures relationships into the world of commerce, where salesmanship is key to a functioning economy and a means of moving up the ladder of prosperity. The center of the current technological paradigm is communication via social media. Other forms of communication, such as through art or motivational speaking, are designed to inspire.

All of these modes of communication make use of persuasion, which is something of an art in and of itself. What it really means to persuade someone is to change minds. What is so powerful about changing minds is that it perfectly unites form and function. This is because, in order to change minds, you must have both the content of an idea that is compelling enough to change the way someone already thinks and do so in such a way that the change sticks with them when they later evaluate its continued presence in their lives, and it must be compelling by nature of how it is presented. So much of persuasion relies on this, as the human mind tends to pay attention to that which is new and novel. But listening to the new and continuing to listen to it require that union of form and function that only experienced persuaders can provide.

Rob Jolles is one such individual whose thirty years of experience as both a speaker and a best-selling author make him an expert in the art of persuasion. Having spoken before audiences that include Global 100 companies and works that have been translated into more than a dozen languages, the continued influence of his programs speaks to its efficacy.

Jolles began his career as a salesman for first the New York Life Insurance Company and later the Xerox Corporation. These businesses not only stoked his appreciation for salesmanship but also taught him that there is a process for selling something. What’s important about having a sales process is that it provides you with a method by which you can measure what you’re doing, and when you’re measuring your process you can improve upon it.

Many refer to what Jolles does as motivational speaking, however, he’s uncomfortable with the title. “It’s not that I don’t want to motivate those who read my books or hear me speak; I certainly do,” says Jolles. “But if that’s all you get from listening to me, then I have failed. I try to motivate, entertain, and inspire in every word I write, and presentation I deliver, but that’s the easy part. I pride myself in teaching repeatable, predictable processes that help people communicate more effectively.”

He often refers to his process as changing people’s minds. In his fifth and latest book, Jolles discusses the ethics behind the act of influence as opposed to the specific strategies used to persuade someone of something. This has to do with his belief that conviction about what you’re trying to get someone to think is one of the most important parts of persuasion. Following that, his instruction examines the decision process everyone goes through and three unique decision points. This is all part of understanding how people make decisions which leads to a greater understanding of how to influence those decisions. That includes “how to initiate a conversation, how to create trust, how to create urgency, how to gain a commitment, how to deal with objections, and even how to adjusts your tactics based on the personality of others.”

For those who may find themselves skeptical of this kind of persuasion, whether its effectiveness or even how much of it can be taught, Jolles reiterates the lessons he learned selling life insurance. “No one actually just wakes up looking for life insurance. Like many decisions in our life, by the time we actually realize we need to make a change it’s often too late. That’s because people typically don’t fix small problems; they fix big problems.” His generalizable understanding that people fear the devil they don’t know rather than the one they do, and his insights into the twin processes of decision-making and influence, support his confidence in his techniques.

And while Jolles remains steadfast in his assurance that those who have gone through his programs have gone on to success, he still emphasizes that making money is only one small part of what influence and persuasion are meant to do. “It helps people understand that influencing the actions of others can be one of the greatest acts of kindness that one person can extend to another.” That Jolles can communicate so effectively what is important about influence is persuasive in and of it self, and only serves as further reassurance of his strong belief in his work and the efficacy of his actions.

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