Become a more inspirational and resonant leader by fully aligning who you are with how you communicate.

If you have ever gone out to eat at a fancy-ish restaurant, then you have most likely been cajoled, coerced or otherwise persuaded into eating dessert.

(“No thanks, really I am full.”)

And if you have ever waited tables before, you know that the ability to convince a table to order dessert is seen as a source of pride and prowess. Think of it as the advanced level of sales that goes beyond just the “you should totally buy the most expensive thing on the menu because it is awesome.” There is something particularly skillful about getting people to shell out another fifteen dollars for cheesecake.

What we are essentially talking about here is persuasion in its purest form. Why would someone choose to buy a dessert, assuming that they did not initially come there with the intention to eat something sweet? What does it take to bring a table along? And what backfires?


(You’re in luck. This dessert does have over 5000 calories!)

Most of us have to use some form of persuasion during our day to day lives. Even if you are in a business that has nothing to do with selling, you will most likely find yourself trying to convince someone to make a choice about something. (If you have small children, you know that this is an every day, hour to hour occurrence.) But have you ever stopped to think about what works best with persuasion versus what backfires almost every time?

You should eat this cake!

Imagine if your server came to your table with the tray of desserts and pointed to a slice of cake saying “You should totally eat this cake!”

 (No caption needed)

Most of us would recoil a little, regardless of how great the cake looked or whether we already knew that we wanted it. Why?

Opposition Reflex

Usually this term refers to dog’s, but the basic psychological elements apply to humans as well. When we feel like someone is pushing us in one direction, we tend to automatically feel an aversion to that direction. We instinctually want to go in the opposite direction. The more we feel pushed toward the cake, the less attractive the cake will appear. (The only time that this may not be true is if we came to that restaurant just for the cake. In that case, we don’t care what the server says, as long as he/she brings that cake.)


Think about the times that someone convinced you to try something that you didn’t think you wanted. Whether it was to read a book, see a movie or try a new food. Why did it work? What did they say? I can tell you from my experience when I was a waiter, telling someone that a dessert was good was not nearly as effective as telling them which dessert I liked the most. 

Think about how these two book suggestions sound to you and how you might react to them:

Person A: “You have to read this book. It is awesome!”

Person B: “I like mysteries, and this was one of my favorite books of the summer. I highly recommend it.”


There are three things that go into persuasion (from Aristotle’s point of view).

  1. The logic of the suggestion
  2. The emotional connection
  3. The credibility or “likeability” of the person making the suggestion

When we focus only on the logic (This cake is the best!) and forgo the other two, we run the risk of alienating our audience. Again, the logic-only approach works great with people who have already decided that they want it. If you want to bring people along who might be resistant, you will need to take another approach.

  1. Sell vs. Share: When a server tells me that he/she likes a certain dessert the best, it no longer feels like a “sell” and instead feels like a “share.”
  2. Context is King: I once had a server say something like “When I am having a bad day, I splurge on this dessert because it always makes me feel better.” Adding the detail of the “bad day” is a great way to help the audience understand the context in which that person enjoyed the dessert. It is a way to gain trust in their opinion.
  3. Trust not Manipulation: This is the toughest one for many people. It isn’t about how to “get them” to buy the dessert. It is about creating an opening to help them think about the dessert. Manipulation is when we make people buy something they don’t want. Trust is when they are open enough to actually see the offer as a possibility. The more you build trust, the more likely they will follow.

In communication in general, we have to understand that what we say is not so important as how we say it. While that might be annoying to those of you who like to think that the content matters more than the style, that isn’t usually how persuasion works.

If you want to have influence over your organization, your family and your peers, pay more attention to your server the next time you are out to dinner. You might learn something new.

  • What motivates you to make a different decision than you originally intended?
  • What makes you more open to new possibilities?
  • Why do you trust one person over another?

Apply those learnings to your own communication style, and you will be surprised at how much easier it is to be trusted and have influence.

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