Persuasion: The learnable art of positive influence in training

By Anne Sexton - Last update

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This article will introduce the trainer to the world of persuasion. Successful trainers need to influence learners to create a positive learning experience. We also show you how to adopt a more influencing style in your training workshops and indeed in your life!

Persuasion is not manipulation

When most people hear the word persuasion they think of it as another word for manipulation. There is, however, a big difference.

Manipulation is using any means necessary to motivate or force a person to do something that fulfils your needs or desires. A manipulator does not care whether this is in the other person’s best interests.

Persuasion requires you to navigate ignorance, misinformation or misunderstanding. In training, persuasion enables the other person to understand what you are saying, and feel what you are feeling. Consequently, they become motivated to do what is in their best interests. As a result, the training becomes a true learning journey for the participants.

The heart of effective and persuasive communication

Effective communication involves two factors. Firstly, you have effectively communicated something when your learners understand what you are saying and feel what you are feeling.

When you communicate, verbally or in writing, you are trying to reach three dimensions of a person. These are their mind or understanding, their emotional state, and their will or motivation to act

Most communication enters at one level but doesn’t penetrate to the other two very often. In other words, most communication is only superficially effective.

One-dimensional communication

This can focus on any one of the three dimensions. If you ask someone in a workshop to do something and he doesn’t understand why, you are communicating to his will.

If they ask for an explanation, it’s a sign they want to go to the next level, understanding. However, if your answer is along the lines of “because I said so and I am the trainer and the expert,” you are ignoring his other two dimensions and simply focusing on the will.

This might result in action for this particular session, but it will do nothing positive to motivate the person in the future. Furthermore, it may have negative consequences. The learner may return to the workplace believing that the training was of no worth.

Aiming at the person’s mind or understanding is certainly more effective than just focusing on the will. Here, you attempt to give him a logical understanding of what you are communicating. If he understands, he feels a higher degree of self-respect.

However, if this is the only dimension your communication reaches, he may still not have the right amount of input to respond or perform in the way he should.

Think of it this way: most smokers understand the dangers associated with the habit. However, this does not necessarily them to quit. As this shows, communicating with people at the mind level may be ineffective if it does not produce results.

You could focus on the third dimension – that of the heart or emotions. But this may also be short term, or inconsistent as a person’s mood takes them.

Therefore, effective communication enables the person to understand what you say and feel.

However, persuasive communication enables a person to understand what you say and feel, and motivates him or her to take action.

Techniques to achieve persuasion with anyone

The hook

The first problem you face when you want to communicate, particularly when commencing a training event and building trust with your participants, is getting someone’s undivided attention. You can use something called the hook. Advertisers do this all the time.

Just like a fish being hooked on a line, you need to ‘hook’ the other person with a real reason for focusing on you. This could be a question or a strong statement that takes them away from their current line of thought and onto you and your request or idea.


When you’ve hooked someone, how do you keep them there? By using something called salting. You’ve heard the expression “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” Well, that was said by someone who wasn’t very persuasive! How about if you put salt in the horse’s oats and made him thirsty? When he gets to the water, you bet he’s going to drink!

You can ‘salt’ your communication in such a way that it will make the other person thirsty for what you’re going to say next. This could be a statement, a group of statements or a question that creates curiosity.

Emotional word pictures

The third technique is by using something called emotional word pictures (EWPs). These can simultaneously communicate with a person’s heart and mind, to convey understanding.

Your understanding or analytical abilities come from the left side of the brain, while your emotions or feelings come from the right. EWPs not only bring added clarity and understanding to the left side of the brain, they can also stimulate feelings and emotions on the right. When you use EWPs they can immediately enable the other person to understand what you are saying and feel what you are feeling.

Here are the benefits for the trainer of using EWPs:

  1. They grab and direct a person’s attention
  2. They have the power to change a person’s thinking and beliefs
  3. EWPs make communication come ‘alive’. By stimulating both right and left sides of the brain, the person begins ‘picturing’ what he or she is hearing
  4. They lock words into a person’s memory – remember, we think in pictures, not words
  5. They provide the gateway to provide better quality feedback, more easily received without negative consequence.

Anne Sexton

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