August Turak

Author Consultant Speaker

8 Steps to Winning Friends, Influencing People, and Getting Any Damn Thing You Want

Sooner or later every leader realizes that most of the people he needs to be successful don’t report to him.  Business success as well as personal success relies on persuasion. Here are the 8 persuasive secrets from the most persuasive person I’ve ever met.

It was 9:30 in the evening and I was wrapping up an SKS meeting with some undergraduates at Duke University when Meredith Parker, the student president, asked if she could walk me to my car.

“Uh oh,” I thought, “she wants something.”

I was running two cash starved start-ups at the time, and I was so worn out that it was all I could do to facilitate these weekly meetings. Despite my fondness for Meredith, I promised myself that I would politely but firmly turn her down.

In 1988 I was invited to give a talk at North Carolina State University for the University Scholars Program; a program designed to “broaden the horizons” of first and second year students. I developed a talk called Five Years with a Zen Master about my mad cap adventures as a college dropout studying Zen Buddhism under a wild, wonderful West Virginia hillbilly.  The talk became the catalyst for a student organization called the Self Knowledge Symposium (SKS) that sponsored the nondenominational meetings that I volunteered to chair and that students voluntarily attended.

Gradually the SKS spread to the University of North Carolina and then Duke, and now, some eight years later, the SKS was the love of my life. As well as a massive demand on the same time and energy that my companies were so determined to keep for themselves.

As we walked toward my car, Meredith told me that Duke offered courses designed by students for credit. If a faculty member agreed to sponsor the course and the syllabus was approved, anyone could teach one. She asked me to teach a course in the upcoming semester.

Though I was reluctant to smother her initiative, recalling my promise, I was determined to beg off.

“It’s a great idea Meredith,” I said, “but what about our regular SKS meetings?”

“We’ll have the course on a different night, and if you don’t have time to lead the meetings, I will.”

“Getting approval sounds like a lot of paperwork, and I don’t have time –”

“I’ve already submitted the paperwork,” she said without blinking.

“But we still need a faculty advisor -”

“I already took care of that,” she replied, “and I already sketched out the syllabus. All you have to do is fill in the blanks.”

“But to make it worthwhile,” I doggedly continued, “we’ll need fifteen students who –”

“That’s what I thought you’d say,” she interrupted. “More than fifteen and we lose the intimacy. I’ve got fifteen already signed up and five alternates in case somebody backs out. I told them they still have to attend the regular meetings so we don’t lose our momentum there.”

Suddenly she was grinning at the dumbfounded look that I apparently had on my face. Game, set, match. Once again I had been completely outmaneuvered by this 19-year-old sophomore that the other kids worshipped and affectionately called “The Boss.” I taught the course that Meredith (who else?) decided to call What Is Zen? It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life….

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I built a career on sales and marketing and eventually sold two sales driven companies, but I’ve never met anyone as persuasive as Meredith Parker. The case study above holds the secrets to persuasively getting whatever you want –whether you are actually in sales, trying to get the go-ahead from your boss, or just trying to get buy-in from your people.
  1. Seize the initiative. At every step Meredith maintained the initiative. She forced me to react to her.  Every decision whether with a client, your two-year –old, or your chess partner will be determined by the person who maintains the initiative.
  2. Anticipate the Objection. Meredith anticipated her “customer” so well that she overcame my objections before I even thought of them.
  3. Don’t Over Rely on a Business Case. Meredith didn’t get the sale by recounting the benefits that the course would have for end users—in this case her fellow students. Nor did she build a business case around why the course would be good for the SKS brand.  Instead she focused on the personal constraints that her client –me- was dealing with.  Companies and organizations don’t buy things. People do and these people are busy.
  4. Action Bias. Meredith didn’t overcome my objections by intellectually suggesting solutions. She took the initiative and did all the work upfront: work that most people in a similar situation would consider my job. She didn’t just overcome my objections, she preempted them by offering what we salesmen call a turnkey solution.  As CEO, I always had 100 opportunities that made perfect business sense for every one I could actually implement.  Whether it was a vendor, a subordinate, or my girlfriend, the person most likely to get the sale was the person who took work off my plate and put it on their own.
  5. Seize the Moral High Ground. By taking the initiative Meredith not only preempted my objections, but seized the moral high ground. Once I knew how much effort she had already expended I felt a moral obligation to go along.  Most people are decent human beings and when you invest in them they will feel morally obligated to invest in you. Never wait to be asked. Just roll up your sleeves and do it.
  6. Don’t Forget Politics. The day of the single decision-maker is gone. Decisions today are driven by consensus. By signing up twenty students before even approaching the “decision-maker,” Meredith built a consensus for the class. It was no longer just a matter of disappointing her; it was matter of disappointing everybody. Again, she didn’t go back and build consensus after hearing my objections; she preempted my objections by  getting out ahead of them.
  7. It is Better to Ask for Forgiveness than Permission. Meredith is such a prime example of this leadership nostrum that I have nothing more to add.
  8. Theory of Mind. Meredith’s real gift was her amazing ability to put herself into another person’s shoes; an ability psychology calls a theory of mind.  Her persuasive power resulted from an uncanny gift for predicting the reaction of others coupled to a willingness to treat them the way she would like to be treated.

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One time WalMart went looking for sun glasses. The vendors lined up and each one made a compelling case for why consumers would so love their sunglasses that WalMart would make millions. But one vendor took a different tack. They showed up with a floor plan of WalMart’s stores that highlighted a bit of space that WalMart had overlooked.  Then they brought in a display case customized to fit this unused space already covered with their sunglasses. Sunglasses that were already equipped with WalMart price tags and bar coding. Then the vendor pulled out signed manufacturing contracts with their own vendors that guaranteed WalMart just-in- time inventory no matter how many sunglasses they sold.  Finally they unveiled a turnkey cross promotion that would not only move lots of sunglasses but increase floor traffic as well.  This vendor got the sale.

I haven’t heard from Meredith in almost ten years, but when I heard this story it crossed my mind that maybe she went into business making sunglasses...

Follow me on Twitter @augustturak, Facebook or check out my Forbes blog for more tips and strategies for becoming a great leader – and to discover how service and selflessness is the secret to success in business and in life.