The Soulful Art of Persuasion

Principle 4: soulful

Read an excerpt from chapter 10: "The importance of skill hunting"


The most powerful kind of persuasiveness is one that flows from a well‐formed character. When you’ve worked to develop certain personal traits and skills, people will take notice.

Some of the habits and dispositionsI’ve discussed—including respectfulness, positivity, and generosity—mostly pertain to your interactions with other people. But your character isn’t just revealed in the ways you negotiate the social world. It’s also evident in your approach to work and your interests.

By work, I don’t just mean the things people pay you money to do, although that certainly is part of it. I’m referring to something much broader: any task or project you set yourself, regardless of the context. This includes everything from cooking dinner to planning a trip, learning a musical instrument, or getting it done at the office.

What does your home cooking technique or your violin chop shave to do with persuasion? Well, if persuasion is about character, and your relationship to work is a window into your character, then quite a lot. This isn’t hard to see. The person who habitually cuts corners and settles for “good enough” in most things is never going to be very influential. In fact, “Who cares what he thinks?” would be a common response to such an individual.   

Now think of the professional athlete, celebrity chef, musician, or some other elite, highly skilled individual. Such people don’t just wield influence; they wield it in domains far beyond their own area of expertise.When they express a political opinion, it can be national news. When they recommend a book, endorse a sneaker, or boycott a brand, they can move markets.They’ve earned that clout by displaying the focus and intensity required to excel at something difficult. That’s why Bono gets to hang out with the Dalai Lama and why Robert Downey Jr. meets with the Queen of England.

Remarkably, the persuasiveness of such highly accomplished individuals has little to do with what we know about them personally.Oftentimes we have no way of judging how informed they are or how sound their judgment is or how honest they are. Instead, their influence flows from their relationship to their skill.   

Thankfully, persuasiveness of this kind doesn’t require world‐class mastery of a given skill. It simply demands a serious, rigorous, skill‐based approach to whatever tasks and projects you choose to pursue. In other words, it requires a concern for doing things well and properly—not just getting them done as quickly, cheaply, and efficiently as possible. It’s an approach I call “skill‐hunting.” And by adopting a skill‐hunting work ethic—and avoiding cheap work‐arounds and relying solely on life hacks—you will end up displaying the kind of character that carries influence.