This book began in a law office, late at night, arguing, with each other. These conversations have continued for hundreds upon thousands of hours over the decades. We will spend hours to write a one paragraph letter. We will take weeks to work and re-work a brief. We will make an argument and scrap it.
It has become a habit and a pastime.
We have disagreed and debated and again changed our minds repeatedly over some very simple questions: What are we trying to do? What are we trying to achieve? What will happen if we say No – or we say Yes – or ignore this letter – or contradict our last position. Do we pick a fight with this guy and contradict everything? Do we agree and misdirect the conversation?
Who will eventually see this letter and what do we care?
What does this lawyer want? Should we give it up or fight about it?
Our entire career has been all about this one thing: it’s how we make a living.
Now this book isn’t about us: we’re nondescript. A book about us would entertain no one.
This book concerns what learned about other people.
We are not research scientists studying persuasion by bringing 250 undergraduate students into a room and then tricking them into a filling out a questionnaire. We are lawyers and part-time professors who have had to make a living by means of persuasion.
And in that time, we have seen judges believe things which are completely untrue – believe things for which there was no evidence.
We have seen the awkward honesty win the day over a slick lie.
We have seen juries believe a party whose star witness admitted under oath that the claim was a fraud. The star witness explained how the fraud was created and how it had proceeded. The jury award the party committing the fraud – admittedly committing fraud – over ten million dollars.
And we have seen where a vicious cross-examination on behalf a multi-billion dollar corporation back-fired, and the confession out of a grieving family enflamed the jury to do right.
We have seen courts simply disregard the law and contradict their own rulings. We have read decisions where courts have seemingly made-up facts, or at least never took the time to even approximate the truth.
We have represented extraordinarily talented sellers, sales – people (?), men and women who could sell apartment buildings and sophisticated technology when others could not even get a meeting.
We have had to play persuasive chess with brilliant opposing attorneys and have had to slug it out verbal thugs who somehow passed the bar.
We have had to use these skills not merely in courts and mediation sessions, but in colleges and churches and debate tournaments.
And all this time, we have been asking ourselves Why did this work and that did not?
Why did this argument work so well on this day, but we were shut down like stray dogs the next day?
Persuasion is how we make a living. None of this is pure abstraction or study for us.
This book is the result of not exactly experiments – because we never got to do the same twice – but rather field research on persuasion.
Yes we have read about persuasion and rhetoric: We have studied ancient authorities and modern psychologists. We have read treatises and reports and looked at historical interactions as well philosophical and theological problems. We have been paid for using this information within disputes – but our interest is far broader than the Uniform Commercial Code.
And in doing that work, we have learned some-things which should matter a great deal to you.
Actually, persuasion does mean a great deal to you – whether you recognize that truth yet, or not.
You probably think persuasion matters if your job is sales. If you sell real estate or cars, you need to learn techniques to increase your chance at making a sale.
Or, perhaps you are interested more generally in how to “win friends and influence people”. Knowing a bit more about persuasion might just help you get along in life.
This is how pretty much everyone thinks about persuasion: it is a learned skill, a technique which one displays when needed. It’s kind of wrench you need to loosen a particular bolt on a motor. You can use it when you need it, but most of the time, it is simply unnecessary.
And you think, Hey, I’m not a mechanic, so I don’t need that wrench. Or, Hey, I don’t sell things so I don’t need to understand persuasion.
You are thinking about persuasion as if it were just a technique, like learning how to properly cook an egg or how to grow herbs in a box in your window.
It’s true: there are techniques which will help you become more influential in this circumstance or that. You can learn how to be better at sales. There are people who will help you learn how to deliberately influence people.
There is also “science” of persuasion. By the way, using the word “science” has a persuasive effect upon you. “Science” makes something very difficult and especially true – and if you question anything, you “deny” science.
And so, if you are like most people, persuasion is something that might get your attention in an online quiz: How persuasive are you? These fifteen questions, proven by science, will tell you the answer.
As long as you think like that, you will be the well-groomed consumer. You will never understand the degree to which you are being formed by others – and the degree to which you are busy persuading others.
Learning how to think rightly about persuasion will let you see just how powerful the forces are which shape your thinking and behavior. There are very capable people who are using very deliberate methods to persuade you to think this and do that – and what makes this best, is that it is all completely invisible to you.
You know persuasion when a commercial says Buy! But you completely miss persuasion when a news story presents you some quotation, some fact, some statistic.
You simply don’t see how often and how easily you are a lab rat in someone else’s scheme.
Until you understand how persuasion is the very air in which we human beings live and breathe and move, you will never understand what is happening all the time around you. When you can see the element of persuasion in every act of human communication, it will change the way you understand yourself, your relationships and the world around you.
And that means something more about persuasion – something which you cannot avoid. Persuasion is not merely about buying cereal or getting someone to help you move from your apartment.
Persuasion is about what it means to be a human being. This book in the end is about what we human beings are doing to and with one-another in every interaction.
Persuasion is not evil manipulation by a propaganda machine – although it may be. Persuasion is also how we fall in love, raise children and imitate the best. Persuasion is hello, thank you, please, I miss you.
To be human and communicate is to persuade. It’s not a science or a technique. It is not an abstract theory; it is kindness and violence; it is hatred and love; it is solitary confinement and the crowd at a baseball game.
This book is about persuasion, but it is really about one of the most fundamental aspects of being a human being. And so, this book is really about you.