Reviews – Persuasion

Book: Persuasion by James Borg

Persuasion is defined by the author as ‘getting people to do something they wouldn’t ordinarily do if you didn’t ask’. Just asking is barely enough; it’s the way you ask that matters. The foreword, a ringing endorsement from Sir John Harvey-Jones, makes the point that ‘real communication involves trust, integrity, and empathy’. This book focuses on how to nurture these.

James Borg singles out magicians as having one of the most difficult persuasive tasks, as they have to get their audience to suspend disbelief. The techniques used to achieve this include gaining attention, using the right words, listening, remembering, and observing body language. It is these skills the book aims to develop in the reader. Used effectively they offer the magic formula for mastering the art of persuasion and, as the author points out, ‘persuasive skills separate those who succeed from those who are less successful’.

The book is divided into 10 chapters, with the first providing an introduction to the art of persuasion as developed by Aristotle. The next seven deal with the essential skills of listening, holding attention, understanding body language, memory, psycholinguistics, telephone technique, and negotiation. The ninth chapter covers difficult people, and the final chapter is about identifying and influencing different personality types. Chapters have a consistent layout, each starts with a bulleted list of points to be covered, which makes browsing and finding specific information easy. Coffee break questions at end of each chapter (a ‘fill in the missing words’ exercise) give it something of a textbook feel and seem rather out of place in what is actually a lively and entertaining read.

Theoretical concepts are illustrated with cartoons, diagrams, and an eclectic collection of quotes ranging from Aristotle to Marilyn Monroe. The extensive use of examples and case studies makes it easy to understand. In the chapter on telephone telepathy for example, whole conversations are reproduced with comments on what makes for a persuasive call and what ensures you get the promised call back.

The advice dispensed is simple but effective. Every technique and solution suggested makes sense and is easy to adopt. For example, in the psycholinguistics chapter, Borg points out that removing the word ‘why’ from a question can reduce emotional intensity. ‘Why’ often implies criticism which deters people from analysing the reasons for their behaviour. He suggests that rather than assailing a person’s character with a question such as ‘Why is your desk always the untidiest?’ a solution can be reached by rephrasing this to ‘Please try to keep your desk tidy as there are visitors passing by all the time’.

Irene Krechowiecka is a careers coach and journalist

Persuasion by James Borg, Prentice Hall, ISBN13 9780273712992