A true story from a friend illustrates four principles of effective interpersonal persuasion. First, less is more. Second, people tend to live up to your sincere confidence in them. Third, a special personal touch can be more persuasive than mere words. Fourth, if your efforts don’t produce immediate results, leave the other person to himself; let his thoughts percolate.

My friend writes that, when his son was just graduating from high school and pining for a career as a paintball professional, he tried to persuade the boy to attend a university where he had been accepted and had some decent financial aid.

He continues, “No soap, Margaret.  Finally, in exasperation, I wrote him a little note card, dropped it at the post office so he would get it in the mail at our house.

“The note said, ‘I love you. What you must do, you must do. But use your brain, be smart about this, look at the reality around you, and don’t be fooled or ruled by anyone else’s one-dimensional judgment of you. That which you believe you want today WILL CHANGE. There is a future for you beyond paintball and beyond today, tonight and tomorrow.  And if you do anything stupid to hurt yourself, I will kill you. Love, DAD.’

“I got my first real adult hug out of him for that. He gave the semi-pro paintball circuit a six month try and has since admitted he kept that short note with him for a long time.  He correctly identified the motivations for those people that wanted him to help make their money right then without regard for his future.”

The preliminary discussions my friend had with his son laid a foundation of ideas and information, but when they failed to convince the boy, a short note tipped the scale.

In addition to its brevity, the note implied that the father had confidence in his son’s ability to make a good decision for himself.

The personal touch, a hand-written note delivered by mail, grabbed the boy’s attention and demonstrated the parent’s love much better than one more long argument. It took a different form than their previous communications on the subject, and it showed a special effort.

The son still gave semi-professional paintball a try, but he did, in time, reach a decision that showed consideration for his long-term future, not just his current impulse. The fact that he kept the note for such a long time shows that its persuasive effect continued to work, even though Dad didn’t see immediate results. Patience paid off.

Can you think of a time when someone influenced you to change your mind for the better? Which of these four traits did their communication entail: brevity, confidence in you, a personal touch, and/or patience?

How might you use some of these principles in your current persuasive endeavors?