Zen and the Art of Persuasion ~ 5 Common Sense Strategies to Boost Your Powers of Persuasion


“Hmmm…interesting. Let me think about that.”

“Ummm…I’m not sure about that.”

“No, I don’t think I can go along with that.”

As great as your idea might be, people are not always ready to accept it. As illustrated in the above colors, there are different degrees of resistance.

Therefore, if you’d like to win someone’s support for your idea, you need to persuade them.

This can be challenging, especially if resistance is high.

I’m not a physicist nor was I a math genius at school. However, I really like Albert Einstein. I find his common sense as impressive as his beautiful theories.

Continuing with this simple blueprint, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner created a common sense bible and best seller with Freakanomics in 2005. They’re back…

In Think Like a Freak, they offer 5 Golden Rules to help us persuade others:

Rule 1: Understand how hard persuasion is –

Knowing an opinion is probably based more on ideology than facts is key to understanding how difficult it is to change someone’s mind.

Rule 2: Remember they have the only vote –

No other opinions count, only theirs. So take the time to make your best arguments, showing you value their opinion while building your case.

Rule 3: Don’t pretend your idea is perfect –

A balanced argument with the pros and the cons shows that your idea isn’t perfect. This is much more persuasive than pretending it is.

Rule 4: Acknowledge opponent’s strengths –

If you want to show that you hear and respect them, listen to the merits of their idea.TIP: Don’t ignore or insult them – this is unnecessary and counterproductive.

Rule 5: Influence them by telling stories –

A story can fill in knowledge gaps (what, why, how) and provide a powerful vision for what’s possible. Stories also relax people and spark imagination.



Including Al Gore’s transformation from boring politician to articulate Oscar nominee, a lot has been written on the art and power of storytelling in recent years.

Nevertheless, storytelling remains one of the best ways to communicate your message and to persuade others to see your side of things.

Here are Dubner and Levitt on why telling stories is the best way forward when trying to persuade someone who doesn’t want to be persuaded:

“A story, meanwhile, fills out the picture. It uses data, statistical or otherwise, to portray a sense of magnitude; without data, we have no idea how a story fits into the larger scheme of things.”

Do you remember Eve tempting Adam with the apple? Moses parting the Red Sea? David slaying Goliath?

Using the world’s best-selling book as an example, they go on to tell us that “people might forget the facts and lists from the Bible but they remember the stories. If you want to people to accept your unusual ideas, tell them stories.”



Your ideas and arguments can always be more convincing. You can always be more persuasive.

National political issue or change initiative at work, the truth is that a lot of people are sitting on the fence (i.e. undecided).

So if you feel strongly about the merits of your idea, do whatever you can to help them make up their mind – implementing these ideas and strategies into your communication and interpersonal style is a fantastic start.

However, keep in mind that “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink” – one of my favorite English sayings as it succinctly illustrates that whatever you do, in the end the decision is theirs, not yours.

I think the sensible professor would have agreed with that.

If you liked the message in the post, please share it with your connections. Please share YOUR ideas & strategies with me below.

  • Charlotte, Marco,

    Are there any other Common Sense Strategies that are missing for you?

    Or other tips you have when trying to persuade/influence others?

    Thx, Tim

  • Yes, absolutely. Cultural differences & preferences are always at play – especially when communicating and persuading. Thanks to both of you for highlighting this!

  • Culture would play a factor in persuasion too. Also – how to read people’s comments. An English “I guess we are not quite there yet” means to a German ear “Yes,.. just a few more pushes to make it over the finish line” whereas it meant for who said it “we are not even close”. The use of words can also vary; a “downgrader” culture uses “a little” or “sort of” while an “upgrader” culture might speak in words like “totally” or “absolutely”. It is necessary to hear closely and if necessary ask back and clarify.