We have seen in this chapter that all individuals who succeed depend upon their power of persuasion. We have seen, also, that persuasion is not necessarily an attempt to advance the interests of one at the expense of another, but essentially a process by means of which two or more minds reach the conclusion that their interests coincide. Since these two propositions are true, it follows that we shall be justified in laying tribute upon every means within our power to increase our effectiveness in persuasion.
Persuasion has been defined as the meeting of minds. This is an excellent definition, chiefly because it localizes the activities involved. It identifies our problem as a purely mental or psychical one. The reason why any two people disagree as to any truth is because their minds have no common ground upon which to meet. Either the minds do not possess all the facts, have not reasoned in accordance with the facts so as to reach a sound conclusion, or, having the facts and having reached the conclusion, they are actuated by different motives. Or it may be a combination of both of these conditions which prevents their meeting. Granting that it is to a man’s interest to buy a life insurance policy, the reason he and the solicitor cannot get together on the proposition is either because he does not know all of the facts involved or because the solicitor has not appealed to motives strong enough to cause his prospective customer to take action. To the insurance solicitor, the facts of the case may be so clear and so easily grasped that he underestimates his prospective client’s opposition, and so does not present the facts in a convincing manner or he himself may have such a confused idea of the factors in the case that he cannot state them clearly. The prospective client may have a remarkably quick, keen comprehension of the essential factors of any plan, but may be unable to grasp details, while, on the other hand, the solicitor, not knowing this, may present his proposition in such minute detail as to confuse. Or the situation may be exactly reversed. The client’s mind may be very slow in action and demand the presentation of a few essential facts with all of the reasons for them, or it may be very quick in action and demand the presentation of many facts in rapid succession, with no attempt to give reasons for them. It will thus be seen that, even in getting down to a conclusive possession of facts, the persuader and the persuaded may be greatly handicapped by misunderstanding.
When we proceed from fact to motive, we find even greater possibilities of misunderstanding. To the solicitor the one all-powerful motive for the purchase of a life insurance policy may lie in the fact that it is an excellent investment. Unless, therefore, he understands psychology and his client well enough to do otherwise, he may talk the investment feature and appeal to the investment motive when dealing with a man who cares nothing about the investment, but might respond readily and instantly if his desire to provide for the future of his wife and children were appealed to.