How to — Literally — Sound More Confident and Persuasive

The New York Times Lifestyle 6 days ago

IT’S NOT WHAT YOU SAY, IT’S HOW YOU SAY IT.

Believe me?

O.K., I’m sorry, that was a cheap trick. But new research suggests that when we’re trying to seem persuasive, the volume of our words — when vocalized, of course — can have an outsize impact.

Does that mean you should shout when you’re trying to seem more persuasive? No, of course not. But according to a paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, you can come off as more persuasive by speaking slightly louder than you normally do, and by varying the overall volume of your voice (i.e., speaking both more loudly and softly).

The effect isn’t quite as dramatic as giving you unholy levels of persuasive power. But it will make you appear more confident when you speak, which has a positive impact on your overall persuasiveness, according to the study.

“Every time we interact with someone, we’re trying to figure out how much they know about what they’re saying, how knowledgeable they are, how confident they seem,” said Jonah Berger, an associate professor of marketing at Wharton and a co-author of the study. “We found that these cues in particular” — the ones related to speaking volume — “made speakers seem more confident, which made them more persuasive overall.”

Humans have something of a built-in anti-persuasion radar, what psychologists call reactants, Mr. Berger said. When someone tries to persuade us, we sometimes push back because we don’t want to be persuaded. We can tell from the words being used, the context and other cues that someone is trying to influence us. “An incoming appeal comes in, someone tries to persuade us, we put up our radar to knock down the projectile,” Mr. Berger said. “We turn off the ad, we hang up on the salesperson, we counterargue against what someone is saying.”

However, we tend to look at speakers who vary their volume as more confident, which translates into an increase in their persuasiveness, according to the study.

In other words: If you’re trying to persuade your roommate to do the dishes, try speaking up a bit.

The core issue here is the influence — both conscious and nonconscious — that paralanguage, or how we say things, has on our perception of others. It’s “not something most people are aware of,” Mr. Berger said.

In conversations, “we spend a lot of time thinking about what we’re going to say, and we spend some time thinking about what our partner is saying,” Mr. Berger said. “We allocate a lot less attention to how we’re saying what we’re saying.” But how we say things can be significant: Whether the listener recognizes changes in paralanguage, and whether the speaker intentionally changes his or her voice, the effect paralanguage has on the listener can happen regardless.

Mr. Berger also said it’s not just those voice inflections that matter in persuasion; being physically present — as opposed to, say, writing a text or sending an email — can also have an enormous impact.

“There’s work that shows people seem more human when we hear their voice,” Mr. Berger said. “We give them more sense of mind, we think of them more as real people when they use their voice. Our research also suggests it can make people more persuasive.”

That’s good news for anyone who has ever spent hours agonizing over the wording of an email to get it just right, particularly when something significant hangs in the balance. Indeed, all that time spent agonizing might in fact be making things worse.

“At some point, we must remind ourselves, any changes we make to a creation no longer make it better but just different (and sometimes worse),” Dr. Alex Lickerman wrote in Psychology Today on the topic of getting things done. “Recognizing that inflection point — the point at which our continuing to rework our work reaches a law of diminishing returns — is one of the hardest skills to learn, but also one of the most necessary.”

Just ask Mr. Berger.

“Sometimes we think crafting the perfect email will be the best way to persuade people,” he said. “But what we find in our work is the voice can be quite impactful.”

Got any persuasion tips? Tell me on Twitter at @timherrera.

Have a great week!

— Tim


Tip of the Week

This week I’ve invited the writer Lindsay Mannering to teach us her wonderfully simple Hot Arugula Hack to get in our leafy greens.

There are all sorts of ways to live a supposedly longer and happier life — use CBD, meditate, milk your own oats — but if you believe deep down that eating more vegetables is the key to a healthier lifestyle, this Hot Arugula Hack is for you.

In about two minutes you can prepare, cook and eat a day’s worth of leafy greens. Use spinach if you don’t mind its fuzzy texture (yuck), or baby arugula, which I find far less offensive.

So! You’ve seen the memes, now here’s my bare-bones, let’s-just-eat-these-greens-and-move-on-with-our-day recipe:

  • Add about a quarter cup of water to any pot or pan. All that matters is that your pot or pan has a lid.

  • Grab a giant, heaping handful of baby arugula (or spinach) and throw it in the pan. Casually sprinkle some water on top of it.

  • Turn the burner on high and cover the greens.

  • Uncover it about a minute later and see how it’s doing. It should be shrinking into a dense, nutritious mass of dark green. If it’s not, cover it a little longer.

  • After about 90 seconds it’s definitely a wilted pile.

  • Sprinkle some salt or hot sauce on top and eat it right out of the pan.

Hot arugula is best eaten first thing in the morning when you’re not that hungry and when a somewhat cheerless (but super good for you) snack is palatable. Bonus points if you’re able to meditate while flash-steaming your greens. Double bonus points if your photo of it goes viral.


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