The Soulful Art of Persuasion

Principle 3: Empathetic

Read an excerpt from Chapter 8: "The Collaboration imperative"


If the person you’re looking to persuade is already on your side—even in a trivial way—your chances of winning them over jump dramatically.That’s why people who are natural collaborators also tend to be effective persuaders.

When you join forces with another person on some project—whether personal, professional, or recreational—you are by definition on the same side. When someone is already part of our team, we are more willing to hear them out, to trust their judgment, to be interested in their well‐being, and to take on their views as our own.  

In several landmark experiments in the early 1970s, psychologist Henri Tajfel and his colleagues separated people into two groups based on arbitrary factors, including a coin toss. Even though these teams were determined randomly, the “us versus them” mentality still took hold. People in each group showed a clear favoritism for their fellow group members when, in the experiment, they were asked to distribute points worth money. This bias toward their own team members existed even though the individuals in the experiment had never met their fellow participants and had no reason to believe they would ever see them again. 

Subconsciously, we recognize our collaborators as fundamentally similar to us. Their projects become our projects. And when we agree with the people on our team or do them a favor, we are affirming our previous decision to cooperate with them in the first place.

The value of collaboration and involvement is woven into our national character. The founders of our country waged the American Revolution in large part because they were unwilling to be governed by institutions and laws that they had no part in creating. “No taxation without representation”was the marketing slogan of the day. And it amounted to the demand that citizens be involved in the decisions of their government.   

The result was the democracy that still defines us today—a form of government that derives its legitimacy from the fact that it is, at base, a collaboration. We may not agree with every law that gets passed or approve of the result of every election (that much is for sure). But even when we don’t, we accept their legitimacy because we are involved in the process—we are collaborators. We have a voice through our vote. Democracy isn’t perfect, but it’s the best way we’ve figured out to get a motley, diverse group of citizens to agree to a set of laws. So it’s as close to a perfect union as it gets.  

The tendency to seek out collaboration and work constructively with others is an essential element of being persuasive.