Be more persuasive by saying less!

Whether you’re speaking up against a bad decision at work, or disagreeing with a friend, persuasion is an important part of everyday communication. 

But often, this attempt to persuade falls flat. Why?

Psychologist Niro Sivanathan has the answer. He says the secret to being heard isn’t persuading more, but less.

It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s just psychology.

When people try to persuade others, they may find themselves rambling, and providing as much of a case as possible. You may think more information can only make your argument stronger, but the opposite is true.

“It’s what's referred to as the dilution effect,” says Sivanathan at TED. “This cognitive quirk has important implications for our ability to be heard and listened to.”

He investigated why people often failed to influence others in the way they intended, even when others may agree. “Put another way, their message was sound, but their delivery proved faulty,” he says.

Sivanathan explains that our minds categorize information in two different camps: diagnostic and nondiagnostic.

“Diagnostic information is of relevance to the evaluation that is being made, and nondiagnostic information is irrelevant or inconsequential to that evaluation,” he explains.

“When both categories are mixed, dilution occurs.”

But why is this the case?

Sivanathan explains that while we may believe additional information strengthens our argument, it actually brings everything else down with it.

“The more robust psychological explanation for this is one of averaging,” he says. “Our mind does not add those pieces of information, but rather averages them.” 

“So when you introduce irrelevant or weak arguments, you will reduce the weight of your overall argument.”

In the United States, pharmaceutical companies are required to list side effects for any medication they advertise. It may seem odd that they list major risks such as heart disease alongside minor side effects such as itchy feet, but this is by design.

By utilizing the dilution effect to their advantage, these ads make the risks seem far less severe than they would appear on their own.

So what’s the takeaway?

The most important thing to remember is that delivery is just as important as the content of your argument. Rather than getting bogged down in irrelevant details, try to get to the heart of the issue.

Here are some tips to get you started:

  • If you can, plan out the key points of your argument beforehand and avoid going off script.
  • Fight the urge to keep talking, there’s nothing wrong with giving the person you’re speaking to a bit of time to process what you’re saying.
  • Keep everything you say relevant to the case you’re making, especially in a job interview.

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