The Ultimate Superpower
Written By: Robb Stevens
Some of the best movies over the past several years have brought to life many of the greatest superheroes from comic books. These movies are action packed, high energy and replete with awesome displays of every superpower imaginable. One reason why these movies are fun to watch is we are fascinated by the cool superpowers and how they are used to fight the “bad guys.” Some of those powers would be great and fun to have at times! How cool would it be to fly like Superman or have his super strength? Interestingly though, the superpowers possessed by fictional characters are used to dominate enemies and competitors, beat them into submission, or force their will on weaker opponents. Here in the real world we actually have to solve problems like civilized people, so the superpowers we can actually develop and aspire to have, are much more refined. Rather than physical manifestations, our superpowers come from our hearts and minds. These powers largely consist of the way we communicate with, treat, and serve each other.
To me, the ultimate superpower is the power of persuasion. Great leaders may have and use many powers, but the power of persuasion can change lives, communities, and even nations for the better. Persuasion can drive businesses to greater heights by helping to sell products or ideas, and drastically improve relationships by creating unity of thought and purpose.
Writing on this topic has naturally prompted me to do more to hone my own persuasive abilities both at work and at home. On a recent morning, one of my daughters, for unknown and irrational reasons, was adamantly refusing to go to school and a “passionate” tantrum ensued. Of my four children, this daughter is normally a quiet, sweet, rule follower that rarely causes us any problems. With that quiet personality, she also has a stubborn side and when it comes out, there is weeping and wailing and carpet damage (from her heels digging in when she doesn’t want to do something). On this morning, my wife and I tried everything – rewards, threats, and even a full-nelson while putting her shoes on which then got pulled back off as she retreated to her backyard playhouse. It was clear by that point that forcing her to go to school was not happening and would only make things worse. After a few moments, I joined her in the playhouse and for the next 20 minutes or so, I sat with her, talked with her and even prayed with her in an effort to calm her down. Gradually she began to relax, smile, and even laugh with me. Then finally, she decided on her own that she would go to school! When her tantrum began there appeared to be no solution, but with patience, kindness, and loving persuasion, I found a way to help her make a proper choice. This turned out to be a powerful, soul touching moment with my daughter! In the end, she was not forced into submission against her will, she was instead coaxed into doing the right thing.
We all have situations in life in which persuasion can be useful, so how do we improve this important “power?” Desmond Tutu once said, “Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.” I learned that lesson and many more that morning with my daughter. An improved argument is a decent start, but there’s much more to becoming a good persuader than having a good argument.
Think about the most influential persuader you know, then answer this question: What makes that person so exceptional? Those who have impacted my life tend to be people I like or admire. Likability is key because when we like a person, it is much easier to also accept and like their ideas.
Great persuaders know their facts, but they know much more than just what they believe, they also know why they believe in something, and they are good at expressing it to others in an understandable and interesting way. To do that effectively they must know their audience, talk on their level, know when to stand firm, and recognize what buttons to push or not push.
Great persuaders are confident in who they are and what their message is. They are patient rather than pushy because they realize that others need time and space to carefully consider their message. Effective persuaders know that pushiness is a huge turn-off and thus counterproductive. They are calm, steady, and even subtle but not deceptive or self-serving.
A persuasive person is someone we can trust. Therefore, what they are “selling” is believable and credible. Why would any of us follow or embrace the message of a person we do not trust? Persuasive people use facts to support their position and their actions demonstrate that they are in no way hypocritical.
Persuaders have passion. They care about the issue they are seeking to persuade on. They are clear on what is important, and their heart is in it. They speak in hopeful, positive terms and instill hope in others. They smile during conversations, which communicates optimism. They use the other person’s name—not just as an initial greeting, but over the course of a conversation.
"Great persuaders know their facts, but they know much more than just what they believe, they also know why they believe in something." Great persuaders are genuine about who they are. They have real interest in others and ask good questions, rather than just talking about themselves. They understand the value of relationships. Relationships matter because no matter how compelling an idea, if a personal connection is not made, people may doubt everything they try to promote. Effective persuaders don’t view others as targets, competitors or someone to be conquered. Instead they value others as people and seek for a win-win. A good persuader does not criticize, insult or degrade another person’s position or belief. Rather, they seek to build on common ground. Think about the importance of that for a moment. If you have ever been insulted for any reason (and all of us have to some degree on something), did it change your attitude or behavior? Insults do not work because the natural inclination of most people when insulted is to become even more dogmatic in holding their original belief than they were before. If I call a coworker an idiot because I disagree with something they are doing, that’s not going to win them over. Instead it may just make them bitter, closed off to my feedback and perspective, and less likely than before to change anything. That goes right along with the sentiment: “Never in the history of calming down has anyone ever calmed down by being told to calm down.”
Now think about the way it feels when someone praises you. A sincere compliment can have a powerful impact on you and sends a clear message that you are valued. People accomplish amazing things when they feel valued. Research shows that a person’s mind takes 48% longer to understand a negative statement than a positive one and that compliments are a dynamic force in motivating or persuading others. Furthermore, people try to live up to the praise they are given.
Great persuaders know how to paint a picture, which is important since visuals bring things to life and have a powerful influence on people. If actual images are not available or practical, well-told stories breathe life into ideas and give others something to relate to. It’s been said that people will forget what you’ve said and even what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel. Visuals and stories make an idea memorable and go a long way in the effort to make people feel good about something or someone.
The ultimate superpower is the power of persuasion. When people are persuaded, they are shown a different way of thinking that may not have otherwise been considered. Just like the situation with my daughter, the goal of persuasion is not to force compliance, but rather, to provide insightful information and positive influence. Persuasion shows or teaches a correct way, then allows people to conduct themselves based on the quality of the information provided. This is what superhero leaders do!