The 15 most-common persuasion mistakes

Michelle Bowden

Michelle Bowden is an authority on presentation & persuasion in business. She is a CSP (the highest designation for speakers in the world), creator of the Persuasion Smart Profile, a world-first psychological assessment that reports on your persuasiveness at work.

As workers across the country slowly head back to the office, many of us might have forgotten how to deal with one another in person and the best way to persuade someone in a working environment.  

While we haven’t completely forgotten what life was like in the office, we can all remember times when we’ve been faced with dealing with someone who didn’t have particularly good ‘persuasion skills’.  

Typically, when we come across someone who seems to struggle with persuasion, be it managers, staff, clients, external consultants or even family and friends, most people would never tell them they weren’t very effective at being persuasive. Most won’t even reveal they might have been offended. We just don’t give people that type of feedback and often prefer to ignore that person in the future or to forget the interaction ever happened to avoid unnecessary conflict. If the interaction was with a senior manager, calling out the negative behaviour might prove even more detrimental.  

Unfortunately, for the person with poor persuasion skills, they’ll never know the impact of their behaviour and may not realise it was ineffective or even offensive. For that reason, it’s important to understand the most common mistakes you might be making with your persuasion techniques to ensure you’re not the one putting other people in a difficult situation.  

Here are the 15 most common mistakes I see people making when attempting to persuade others.  

1. Pessimism or lack of enthusiasm or passion. If you’re going to persuade someone of anything, you’d better be enthusiastic about the idea yourself. If you’re excited, it’s contagious. If you’re flat on the idea that’s also sending a very clear message.  

2. Appearing judgemental or distrustful. People don’t like to be judged. Imagine if you were trying to convey an idea to someone only to know you’ll be criticised and judged immediately afterwards. Instead, try to listen to other people with an open mind. When you are persuading someone it’s important that they don’t feel judged by you. Rather, they need to feel accepted in order to listen to your point of view.  

3. Too many questions. When you’re trying to convey your ideas to someone else, it’s not an interview or an interrogation. Don’t over-question your prospect or stakeholder.  

4. One-sided facts. In the modern world, people are more sceptical than ever. To make sure you’re credible, try to present balanced logical arguments that can be backed up with facts.  

5. Denying, blaming or justifying poor decisions. These are all traits of a person with a victim mentality and this can be a serious turn-off in an interaction. We all make mistakes and people respect those able to take responsibility.  

6. Pushy behaviour. Few people like being sold to. While it’s good to be committed and passionate, focus on the other party and less about your own agenda to ensure you’re guilty of forcing your ideas on people.  

7. Too many stories to make your point. While personal stories are a powerful tool to communicate your ideas, too many of them is boring. You’re trying to have a conversation so remember that it’s not a one-way street.  

8. Seeming desperate. Desperation has a vibe about it that’s a real turn off to people.  Desperation also opens you up to price negotiations that will leave you feeling used and unfulfilled. Do what you can to feel confident in yourself and your idea or offer but don’t beg or plead.  

9. Forgetting someone’s name, or never knowing it in the first place! If you’re trying to persuade someone, you need to build trust and respect. If you can’t remember a key person's name, you’re likely to immediately lose trust and respect. Please care enough about your prospect or stakeholder to know their name and get it right every time.  

10. Allowing yourself to be distracted by something more ‘interesting’ in conversation. Have you ever spoken to someone distracted by something other than you and your conversation with them? Don’t do this. It makes it seem like you don’t care enough to stay connected to the person and what’s being said.  

11. Indirect eye contact that makes you appear insincere or disinterested. Building rapport starts with good eye contact. Don’t stare. Instead, be sure to look at the person - relax your face and connect through your eyes.  

12. Overstating the facts. While it’s great to be excited about an idea, don’t get into the habit of exaggerating the facts. If you are perceived to be embellishing, overstating or distorting the facts you may be seen as lacking in integrity. Always be truthful and honest.  

13. Forget to ask for what you want. You can’t persuade someone if they are confused about what you’re asking for. People can’t ready your mind. Always ask for the thing you want. Just as Oprah Winfrey said, “You get in life what you have the courage to ask for.”  

14. Talking about yourself too much. Only talk about yourself to the extent that it builds rapport and establishes the necessary amount of credibility. Then stop. Talking about yourself the whole time can see the other person lose interest fast.  

15. Being too smooth. While being smooth might look good in the movies, in reality it can come across as contrived or insincere. Aim to be as authentic as possible. You’ll be your most authentic and persuasive self when you plan your message thoroughly, rehearse until you can’t get it wrong, and then allow yourself to ad-lib and even add some humour on the day.


- This is an edited extract from How to Persuade: The skills you need to get what you want (Wiley, 1 Aug 2022).

Tags: Leadership strategies, leadership

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