Ten Common Obstacles That Limit Your Persuasion Success

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Apr 09, 2024

There are things you are doing right now that cause people to resist you and your message. My research shows that there are ten common obstacles mediocre persuaders make that limit their success and income.

Radio humorist Garrison Keillor coined the term “Lake Wobegon Effect” to describe the tendency most people have to see themselves as better than average. In his book, Lake Wobegon Days, Keillor depicts a town where “all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.” Like the Lake Wobegon folks, we all have a natural bias to see ourselves as above average. It’s really hard to admit it when we just don’t cut it, especially when it comes to skills that we regard as basic or common. Psychologists call this tendency “cognitive bias,” or the “better than average effect.” It is also called “The Wobegon Effect.”

The reason the Wobegon Effect has such a negative impact, not only on our persuasive abilities but also in our lives, is because we are lying to ourselves. That’s the bottom line. We’re lying to others, and we’re lying to ourselves. We are investing in hopes and dreams that are not based on honest evaluation. It might seem nice to view the world through rose-colored glasses for a while, but in the end, you’re setting yourself up for failure. The Wobegon Effect ultimately gives us a false sense of security. When afflicted by it, we become numb to reality and fail to see exactly where we stand and what we need to improve. This tendency can lower our expectations about ourselves and falsely improve our confidence.

I’m not recommending a doom-and-gloom attitude, but how can you expect to set goals—modest or lofty—if they are all built on false skills and presumptions? Great persuaders are able to take a good, hard look at themselves and come to grips with the facts, both the good and the bad. This is when you will be able to make real progress.

My research has shown the following to be the top-five strengths persuasion students say they have mastered, but rate themselves higher than they actually are: 
1. People skills/empathy 
2. Persistence/determination 
3. Communication/listening 
4. Personal mastery 
5. Closing skills

Do you suffer from the Wobegon Effect? What is it that you’ve been telling yourself and everyone else you do really well, when in fact you don’t do it well at all—or at least you’re not above average, as you’ve been trying to convince yourself and everyone else?

Has this ever happened to you? You enter a retail store and you’re approached by a sharply dressed persuader. You are interested in buying, but the salesperson is a little aggressive. You get an alarming feeling in the pit of your stomach and then do what many of your customers do to you. You lie! You say, “I’m just looking; I’ll come back later,” or “It’s too expensive,” or “I have to talk to my spouse before I decide.” What you’re really thinking is “I don’t like this guy,” or “I don’t trust her,” or “Something didn’t feel quite right.” In the end, you never go back to this store, you never recommend it, and neither the store owner nor the persuader ever knows why. This is a large brick in the Brick Wall of Resistance.

Great persuaders have cultivated a sixth sense when it comes to the “push and pull” aspect of persuasion. You must encourage without pushing. Entice, but don’t ensnare. You have to sense and then predict—based upon knowledge, instinct, experience, and nonverbal cues—what you can do and how your audience will respond. With this sensitivity, which you can learn, there won’t be any smacking head first into the brick wall of resistance.

Most people think of themselves as employees. They make their hourly wage or their annual salary; they get their fixed amount. The truth is we all are paid for our performance. We are all on commission, whether we realize it or not, whether we like it or not. The path to success is often blocked by our inability to take full responsibility for our current situation.

Consider your current situation and ask yourself, “Am I happy? Am I doing all that I can? Is there more out there?” When we are honest with ourselves, we often find that the status quo is set where it is because we are either comfortable or lazy, not because we honestly believe it’s ideal. If you know you’ve reached a plateau and you’re ready to break through, it’s time to step up to the plate and take on a new do-it-yourself project. Do you know what that project is? Building a better you. Roll up your sleeves, because you and you alone will decide what your income will be. What are you really worth? Does that amount match your current paycheck?

Being an extrovert, having the gift of gab, or being able to make small talk with anyone you meet can definitely be used to your advantage, but watch yourself. How can you persuade if you are always talking? It will be very annoying to your audience if they sense that you like hearing yourself talk more than listening to their concerns. Remember, it’s about them, not you. Great persuaders listen more than they talk. In fact, great persuaders use their listening and questioning skills to get their audience to persuade themselves.

Often when someone comes to you, she already knows what she wants. She already has something in mind. She just needs to talk through it with someone. Which approach do you think will have better, longer-term results: your persuading your audience, or your helping them persuade themselves? It’s much better if your audience feels as if they have made the decision themselves, without perceived external influences. When you do have to talk, be succinct and to the point.

Many times, when we are trying to be persuasive, we want to highlight all the perks and plusses. It’s only natural. Wouldn’t helping someone see the potential gains of your product or service be a good thing? Yes, but here is the issue: Your audience will buy for their own reasons and only their reasons. They don’t care about why you like the product or service. They don’t care how much you know about it—don’t bury them in detail. The more you spout off about features, the more your audience mentally checks out.

Let them tell you what they’re looking for. After you’ve discussed what they care about, after they’ve made the decision to buy, then and only then should you fill in any remaining blanks with other benefits or features. Don’t oversell by cluttering or distracting the few most important key points.

Do you think it feels good to be a wild animal’s prey? Are you coming across as a ravenous wolf or a shark after the smell of blood? Would you want someone stalking you who doesn’t have your best interests in mind? This is how your audience feels when they can sense you are desperate for their compliance. My research shows that people can sense when a persuader or salesperson is uneasy, nervous, or tense. In other words, if you’re uncomfortable, your audience is uncomfortable. There’s no way around it. They will see past your gleaming smile, and even if they don’t understand it, they’ll start to get the feeling that you’re a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

How do you know when you’re in desperation mode? You can recognize the mentality:
“I have to get this sale or else.”
“I have to get his business or it’s over.”
“I have to negotiate the deal today or I can’t pay the bills.”

Usually this desperation is rooted in fear. If you ever find yourself slipping into desperation mode, ask yourself what you are so afraid of. What’s the worst thing that can happen? Is it really that bad?

Of all the things that we might fear, most of us will have a bout with this one at some time. We all experience rejection in small doses every day. But what about when we persuade for a living? Rejection seems to take a higher toll.

When we don’t handle our fears appropriately, we inadvertently end up being the ones passing out the bricks for that wall of resistance. How excited would you be to buy from someone who seemed nervous, tense, and demanding? If you are so incapacitated by fears of rejection that you retreat from attempting persuasion at all, then you have sealed your own fate.

Another reason our persuasion power weakens is that we get lazy and don’t take the time to prepare. After acquiring a certain amount of experience, we take for granted that we’re pretty smooth and that we can always wing it or go through the motions. Well, maybe you’ll get away with that kind of approach every now and then, but I’m here to tell you it’s a bad practice.

If you catch yourself feeling this way, it’s time to take a personal inventory. First of all, you are going to come across as unprofessional, too laid back, or too relaxed. These perceptions are all turnoffs, making your audience feel like the encounter is not important to you. If you’re going to be persuasive, you have to do your homework. Furthermore, if you aren’t up on critical details, you risk coming across as uninformed. How can your audience take you seriously if you aren’t taking them or the situation seriously?

There are four areas in which great persuaders prepare. They are: 
1. Knowing your product or service inside and out.
2. Knowing your audience and what their needs and wants are so you can tailor your presentation. 
3. Having several tools in the toolbox so that you can present them with options and alternatives. 
4. Knowing how to customize your presentation.

Have you ever caught yourself saying, “Oh, great. Look at that strange person. He’s never going to buy,” or “I can just tell she’s not going to like what I’m offering,” “They don’t seem that smart,” or “I can’t change their mind.” This is one of the most devastating mistakes you can make, because you really cannot judge a book by its cover.

Your audience can sense when they don’t really matter to you. If the ship wasn’t sinking already, your lack of interest will definitely sink it fast. Give your audience the time and attention they deserve each and every time. Wouldn’t it be a shame to lose a deal because you judged someone wrongly, only to learn later that he ended up going to your competitor with a big order when you had exactly what he needed all along?

Closing skills were the big thing twenty years ago. We were taught that closing skills were all you needed. If you did not persuade enough people, you had to learn more closing skills. Nowadays, sure, it’s nice to have a few closing skills in your persuasion toolbox, but shouldn’t you spend more time opening up your audience before you even think about closing a deal with them? In fact, great persuaders don’t even have to use closing techniques. That’s because their audience is ready to purchase before the end of the conversation has even been reached.

When closing skills are used at the wrong time, in the wrong place, or with the wrong person, another brick is added to the wall of resistance. When people sense that they are about to be hit with a hard close, the wall starts to increase in thickness and strength.

Adapted with permission of the publisher from target=_blank>Persuasion IQ, by Kurt W. Mortensen. Copyright 2008, Brian Emerson and Anne Loehr. Published by AMACOM, a division of American Management Association. For information about other AMACOM books, visit http://www.amanet.org/books/.