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Lessons in persuasion from a 19-year-old

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

The most persuasive person that August Turak has ever met was a 19-year-old undergraduate at Duke University named Meredith Parker.

When they met, Turak was chairing a Self Knowledge Symposium (SKS) at Duke, and Parker was a student member.

Post-symposium one evening, Parker asked a favor. She had an idea for a new course at Duke, and, according to university rules, all she needed was a faculty sponsor and an approved syllabus. She wanted Turak to teach the course.

“It’s a great idea, Meredith,” Turak said, “but what about our regular SKS meetings?”

“We’ll have the course on a different night,” Parker said, “and if you don’t have time to lead the meetings, I will.”

Turak raised other objections; he didn’t have time to do the paperwork or find an advisor. His student had already done both tasks. She’d also sketched out a syllabus.

“But to make it worthwhile,” Turak said, “we’ll need 15 students who …”

“That’s what I thought you’d say,” she interrupted. “I’ve got 15 signed up.”

Their conversation, though brief, holds the secret to persuasively getting what you want, says Turak.

1. Parker seized initiative and held it, every step of the way. “She forced me to react to her,” he says. The person with initiative controls the dialogue.

2. She anticipated the customer’s objections (before he even knew them) and was ready with solutions.

3. She didn’t over-rely on the benefits of the course for users or for the SKS brand. Instead she built her case around Turak’s personal constraints. “Companies and organizations don’t buy things,” he says. “People do, and these people are busy.”

4. She took work off his plate up front—work that others might have considered Turak’s to do—effectively pre-empting Turak’s objections.

5. She took the moral high ground. After doing so much work, Turak felt a moral obligation to say yes.

6. She built consensus. By the time she approached Turak, she had 15 other people in agreement. If he’d said no, Turak would be disappointing all of them.

It’s no different than what other effective persuaders do.

For example, when Walmart was looking for a sunglasses vendor, prospects lined up to make their case for why they’d make millions for the retailer. But one vendor did something different.

This vendor showed up with a map of Walmart’s floor plan, highlighting a piece of overlooked floor space. They brought a display case customized for the space, stocked with sunglasses that had Walmart price tags and bar coding. And they brought presigned manufacturing contracts, guaranteeing just-in-time inventory.

They got the contract.

— Adapted from “8 Steps to Winning Friends, Influencing People, and Getting Any Damn Thing You Want,” August Turak, Forbes.

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