How to influence, not argue, with people

Political divisions in America have me thinking about how to speak with people with whom I disagree. This is personal. I have an aunt with whom I can’t talk politics. As a result, I was intrigued by the chapter called “Don’t Argue” in Trish Hall’s Writing to Persuade.

Arguments don’t get good results

Hall makes a case against arguing with people with whom you disagree. She says, “Intriguing studies suggest that when faced with aggression, people don’t change their minds. They hold even more fiercely to what they believe.” I believe she’s referring to heated arguments, rather than logical exchanges about low-stakes issues.

This Article Won’t Change Your Mind,” an article in The Atlantic, says that people try to avoid cognitive dissonance—the discomfort of holding two thoughts that conflict. “There are facts, and there are beliefs, and there are things you want so badly to believe that they become as facts to you,” writes author Julie Beck. This is especially true about a “belief that’s deeply tied to your identity or worldview” so it leads to “motivated reasoning,” according to Beck, who writes:

Motivated reasoning is how people convince themselves or remain convinced of what they want to believe—they seek out agreeable information and learn it more easily; and they avoid, ignore, devalue, forget, or argue against information that contradicts their beliefs.

Hall says that arguing is sometimes “performing,” in which the actors don’t expect to change minds.

Don’t do this

Hall says that if you want your listeners or readers to be open to changing their minds, do not do any of the following to your audience:

  • Make fun of them.
  • Attack them personally.
  • Generalize about people—Hall says, “I stop reading if an article assumes something about me based on my gender, geographic location, or income.”
  • Batter them “with facts that would appear to demolish their world view”—She says, “People like people who don’t try to crush them all the time with their superior knowledge.” And helping people to like you is part of how you open their minds to your ideas.

Do this instead of arguing

“Always concede the good points of the other side. What you want is to be heard, not to win every outing,” says Hall. She also recommends that you:

  • Mention areas where you agree with your audience.
  • Suggest that you may not have all the right answers.
  • Offer choices.
  • Use charts and graphs because “People tend to trust scientists, so using the tools of their trade…can make you seem more trustworthy,” as Hall says.

Hall’s chapter includes an example of how she used her suggestions to navigate a touchy political topic with her mother. I’m not convinced that she changed her mother’s mind. However, it appears that at least they were able to talk without raising their voices and getting angry at each other. That allows for an ongoing relationship. And, perhaps, opinions will change over time.

Will you argue less?

As I write this blog post, I’m mulling over how I might try Hall’s advice on my aunt.

If you try these techniques, I’m curious to learn if you get good results.


Disclosure: If you click on an Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I provide links to books only when I believe they have value for my readers.

Don’t finish sentences

Are you horrified that I’m suggesting that you shouldn’t finish sentences? Contrary to what you may think, I’m not suggesting that you use sentence fragments in your writing. Instead, I’m suggesting that you stop finishing other people’s sentences when you speak with them. You’ll learn a lot more.

Trish Hall reminded me of this advice in her book, Writing to Persuade. To persuade, you must know your audience. To know your audience, you must listen.

Hall says,

Don’t cut people off in the middle of a sentence. Press your top teeth onto your tongue if that’s the only way to keep words from escaping.

As Hall says, “You need to listen so you know how to meet objections, and to determine what argument will be most persuasive.”

Moreover, your listening can make people like you better. Hall says:

People who asked more questions were better liked by the people they were talking with, especially if they asked follow-up questions that showed they were listening… [Moreover,] in one-on-one situations, when two people listen to each other, they become more open to the other’s politics and point of view.

By the way, do as I say, not as I do. My husband often catches me finishing his sentences. It makes him mad. However, when I studied Japanese in Tokyo, I learned that there it’s considered good to finish other people’s sentences. At least in Japan, it’s seen as a sign of how closely attuned you are to the other person. I must remember that I’m living in the United States now.

Disclosure: If you click on an Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I provide links to books only when I believe they have value for my readers.

Bad images hurt credibility

Words aren’t the only thing that matter in using publications to build your credibility as a financial expert. Visuals matter, too.

If your publication’s images aren’t consistent with its text, they’ll sap your credibility.

Examples of credibility sappers

At the simplest level, the mistake could be an article that talks about a four-step process, but an image that shows five steps.

However, the four versus five issue is an example of a mistake that any proofreader could catch. Not every mistake is that simple.

I’ve seen an article about long-term care insurance that was illustrated by paper-doll-style cutouts of an umbrella held over two parents and two little kids. The illustration was attractive, but more appropriate for an article about life insurance than one about long-term care insurance, where most claims are on behalf of older adults. To me, that inappropriate illustration shouted, “I don’t understand long-term care insurance.”

Evidence of credibility boosting

According to the Neuromarketing blog’s post on “Persuade with Pictures”:

A new study shows that text is more credible when accompanied by photos, even when the photos don’t support the point of the text!

That statement disturbs me. However, the same article says that the images must be relevant:

Don’t use random stock photos only vaguely related to the message you are trying to convey. The persuasive photos in the study were specific, even though they didn’t actually have any value as proof of the statement.

Nielsen Norman Group, a highly credible source on website usability says in “Photos as Web Content” that its eye-tracking research has found that:

  • Some types of pictures are completely ignored. This is typically the case for big feel-good images that are purely decorative.
  • Other types of pictures are treated as important content and scrutinized. Photos of products and real people (as opposed to stock photos of models) often fall into this category.

Nielsen Norman’s bottom line: “users pay attention to information-carrying images that show content that’s relevant to the task at hand.” Those images also build credibility.

Forget stock photos

By the way, stock photos (as noted in Nielsen Norman’s second bullet) generally don’t get positive reviews. If you say that’s all you can afford, believe me, I sympathize. I often use stock photos for that very reason, although, fortunately, I have a virtual assistant who customizes some images for me.



Top posts from 2017’s third quarter

Check out my top posts from the third quarter!

They’re a mix of practical tips on email (#1), writing (#2, 3, 4, & 6), blogging (#5), marketing (#7, 8, & 9), and presentations (#10).

Here’s my list of posts that attracted the most views during the third quarter:

    1. Out-of-office auto-reply: vacation necessity?
    2. Editing tool: the Writer’s Diet
    3. Don’t give up on being different
    4. Writers, do you know when something’s wrong?
    5. Blog your passions or your audience’s interests?
    6. Powerful financial article abstracts
    7. Have you ever…?
    8. Dare to be different in your financial marketing
    9. How I named my website—and the lessons for you
    10. Webinar lessons from my annual webinars

Top posts from 2017’s second quarter

Top posts on InvestmentWriting.comCheck out my top posts from the second quarter!

They’re a mix of practical tips on marketing (#1, 6, 7), writing (#4, 5, 9, 10), blogging (#3, 10), newsletters (#2), compliance (#3), and investment commentary (#8).

Here’s my list of posts that attracted the most views during the second quarter.

  1. Be specific about your advantages, or lose prospects—This post received many social media shares.
  2. Catch e-newsletter non-openers with this technique—I’ve boosted my newsletter’s open rate with this technique.
  3. Fixing compliance issues with comments on your LinkedIn Pulse posts
  4. Quotation websites for your writing
  5. Underline your way to less financial jargon
  6. Use Trello to manage your VA’s marketing help
  7. Financial call transcripts: are they good for marketing?
  8. What are your top challenges in writing investment commentary?
  9. Writing lessons from a famous painter’s journey
  10. AP StyleGuard: the answer to your proofreading prayers?

Changing your instructions is risky

My long-suffering husband has a communications lesson for you. Recognize that your first message is most easily absorbed by your listeners. If you change your message midstream, your listeners may not hear you. To make sure your message gets across, ask them to confirm their understanding of the new message.

“Park your car outside the garage tomorrow, so I can get my tires,” said my husband on a Thursday morning. Okay, I said. We spoke a bit more. I guess my attention strayed because I ran into trouble the next day.

On Friday, I parked where my husband had indicated. However, when my husband arrived home, he asked “Why did you park there?”

Me: “Because you asked me to.”

Husband: “No, I told you that you didn’t have to park there after all.”

Me: “You did?” Apparently my husband’s changed instructions hadn’t registered in my head. Perhaps I was trying to make up for my poor performance that I described in “Instructions for a bad wife.” I should have confirmed my understanding at the end of our conversation. I’ll do that next time. At least, I’ll try. I seem to have a blind spot for my husband’s parking instructions.

What’s the lesson for you?

If you change your mind after giving initial instructions, don’t count on your listeners absorbing the new information. This might apply, for example, if you start by suggesting selling one fund, but then switch to another recommendation.

What can you do to reinforce your change?

  1. Repeat your new instructions.
  2. Explain why you changed your mind.
  3. Ask your listeners, “Do you understand my new instructions?”
  4. Consider putting your instructions in writing.

This may be overkill, if your listeners are more attentive than me with my husband. However, if the new instructions are important, you’ll be glad you took extra steps to ensure your listeners’ comprehension.


My five favorite reference books for writers

A printed book is sometimes the best place to find a solution to your question about writing style, punctuation, or grammar.

Here are my five favorite reference books.

  1. Edit Yourself: A manual for everyone who works with words by Bruce Ross-Larson. Everyone should own this small, inexpensive, easy-to-use book. I use Part II, the back of the book, the most. It lists troublesome words in alphabetical order. It’ll help you cut pretentious words and resolve problems such as deciding between “which” and “that.” Part I describes and offers solutions to problems common in everyday writing. Buy it today!
  2. Words into Type, based on studies by Marjorie E. Skillin, Robert M. Gay, and other authorities. This fat classic from 1974 is my second “go to” reference book when I’m flummoxed by a question of style, punctuation, or grammar. I go straight to the index to look for the word or type of problem. The book is aimed at individuals preparing manuscripts for publication.
  3. The Chicago Manual of Style was my favorite reference book for many years. It’s the most academic of the books on this list. You can also subscribe online to the manual and follow it on Facebook or Twitter.
  4. The Associated Press Stylebook. If you’ve ever heard an editor say, “We follow AP style,” they’re talking about the print or online edition of this style book. There’s even an iPhone app for this guide. You can follow AP style on Twitter at @APStylebook or on Facebook.
  5. The Grammar Bible by Michael Strumpf and Auriel Douglas. This book gives plain English explanations of vexing issues of grammar and more.

Honorable mention

If you’re passionate about good writing, you’ve probably got a favorite reference that I’ve overlooked. Please tell me about it.

Disclosure: If you click on an Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I provide links to books only when I believe they have value for my readers.

Updated: October 2020

Guest bloggers: 2013 in review

I’m thankful for the knowledgeable and talented professionals who have contributed guest posts to my blog this year.

Here’s a list of guest posts, with links to the bloggers’ websites and Twitter accounts.






I also hosted some wonderful guest bloggers last year. See “Guest bloggers: 2012 in review.”

Dear husband, please stop

You can learn a writing lesson from my dear husband.

It drives me crazy when he says to a restaurant’s hostess, “You don’t have a table for two, do you?”

I nag him afterwards, saying “Ask a positive question, not a negative one! It’s easier for the listener to understand what you want.”

The “go positive, not negative” rule applies to statements as well as questions.

Here’s an example of a negative statement that sticks in my mind due to my having earned a Ph.D. in Japanese history.

“The war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage…”

This is how the Japanese emperor announced in 1945 that Japan had lost the war. Did you understand that?

The Japanese prefer roundabout sentences. Americans do not.

5 tips for getting your experts’ cooperation when you need it

I heard high praise for the roundtable that investment marketer Anne Banks of gr8 communications moderated at the May 2013 PAICR RFP Symposium. Below you’ll find tips that will help you earn people’s cooperation whether you’re a financial advisor, marketer, or any person who relies on obtaining information from colleagues.

I’m delighted to have had the opportunity to chat face-to-face with Anne at two PAICR events in New York City.

5 Tips for getting your experts’ cooperation when you need it

By Anne Banks

Throughout your career there will be many times when you will need to collaborate with and/or tap the expertise of fellow professionals to achieve success. In the investment management industry, the expertise of portfolio managers, product and portfolio specialists, and securities analysts is always in high demand. Getting their attention and help can be a challenge—but it’s not impossible.

Having worked in the investment management industry for 25+ years, here’s what I believe can help you get the most out of your working relationships with your firm’s investment professionals and other subject matter experts.

1. Lead from the front.

In my opinion, the best way to get people to give you time and help is to lead by example. It’s hard for people to turn down your request for help if you’ve always been ready and willing to do them the same favor. Of course, there will the odd person that won’t play ball, but they are typically few and far between.

2. Focus on the relationship, not the to-do list.

If the only time you engage with your subject matter experts is when you need something from them—think again. You don’t have to become their best buddy, but people are generally quicker to help those they know and like. So, if you happen to like the expert, work on building a relationship beyond your to-do list. In particular, look and listen for signals as to how you might return their favor.

3. Some respect, please.

You want to build a relationship that is founded on mutual respect and, in my experience, the best way to get respect is by giving it. In particular, be respectful of your expert’s time, because they generally are in high demand. For example:

  • Be on time and come prepared for any meetings you schedule with them.
  • Use your time with them wisely; ask key questions first and, where possible, come with a suggestion on how to approach the issue you are discussing.
  • Give them a reasonable amount of time to respond to your requests.
  • Share the insights they give you with all relevant stakeholders and capture them in relevant internal systems and documents – because nobody likes being asked the same question over and over!

4. Say thank you.

Don’t just thank them for their time and the information. Did their speedy response save your bacon on getting a critical document out the door on time? Did the work get special recognition – either from senior management or from a prospective client who decided to hire you? Let them know these outcomes, and their boss too.

5. Think bigger picture.

When the expert is more senior than you, I would recommend that you view your engagement with them as more than an information-gathering expedition. With the right preparation and approach, it’s an opportunity to make a positive, indelible impression on the expert—one that could be career-making for you, as well as deliver the information/answers you need now.



Anne Banks is principal, gr8 communications LLC, an independent marketing consulting firm that specializes in branding, marketing and communications solutions for institutional asset managers.