The Paradox of Persuasion: Shut Up


Dave, look, I like your passion and excitement for Dunkin’ Donuts, and it sounds like you have a lot of really interesting, exciting things to offer with Radio Disney,” said Shannon, a longtime marketing lead for the Dunkin’ Donuts brand who was based in Massachusetts. “But I can barely get a word in here. How can you learn about our specific marketing needs if you do all the talking in this conversation?”

I was so embarrassed when I heard this. I had worked really hard as a persistent salesperson for Disney by incessantly calling both Shannon and her gatekeeper assistant, Betty, to get this face-to-face opportunity, and now I was blowing it by talking too much.

That was a mistake I made often early in my sales career, and it’s one I still occasionally make as an entrepreneur and CEO. There is no question that many of the best salespeople and the best leaders are filled with passion, positivity, ideas, and enthusiasm. Those qualities serve us well in many cases. Our passion and enthusiasm are contagious, for instance, and as a result many people want to be around us.

But these strengths sometimes come with a nasty side effect. Often, precisely because we get so passionate and excited about an idea, an opportunity, or a product, we can’t seem to stop running our mouths about it. The result is that once the people who wanted to be around us so badly are actually around us, they pretty quickly start wishing we’d just shut up and listen.

As Dale Carnegie wisely explained:

If you want to know how to make people shun you and laugh at you behind your back and even despise you, here is the recipe: Never listen to anyone for long. Talk incessantly about yourself. If you have an idea while the other person is talking, don’t ​wait for him or her to finish: bust right in and interrupt in the middle of a sentence.

The point is that to influence others, you have to know when to shut up and listen.

It may sound like the ultimate paradox that listening to others is the key to influencing them, but for those who are not yet convinced, here is a recap of all the reasons listening is so much more powerful than talking:

  1. Listening allows you to understand the person you want to influence so that you can tap into his unique goals, dreams, needs, and wants.
  2. Listening gives the other person an opportunity to feel heard, which often leads to feeling appreciated and respected and even liked or loved. It is much easier to influence someone who’s feeling this way.
  3. Listening gives you an opportunity to think. We can listen three times faster than we can talk, and so listening gives us extra time to think, prepare, and reframe what we want on the basis of what we’re hearing.
  4. Listening, along with mirroring and validation, helps lonely people feel connected and great. This is even more contagious and powerful than feeling great around a positive, high-energy talker.
  5. Listening increases the chances that the other person will talk about her pain or her organization’s pain, that is, the problem that you can try to solve.

No matter what you have to say, offer, sell, or convince someone of, it is always more effective to demonstrate genuine, authentic interest in the other person by listening and asking questions and then listening some more than it is to talk at that person. Of course, ​eventually you have to talk to share your idea or product or otherwise make your case, but if you’ve laid the groundwork by listening, that part is actually surprisingly easy.

Recently, I was selling our latest company’s software product, Likeable Local, over the phone to Mike, the brother of a dentist who happened to be a retired police officer. The software was made for small businesses, especially dentists, which at the time was the only vertical on which we were focused.

I had an online demo of the software ready to show and had booked thirty minutes with the officer, who I had been told helped do the marketing for his brother’s dental practice. After a brief introduction to let him know who I was and how the product had come about, I began asking questions. I was genuinely interested in how a retired police officer could end up doing the marketing for a dental practice, and so I asked questions about it, got more curious, and asked more questions, all the while sitting back and listening instead of selling.

Twenty-five minutes in, I heard the following from Mike: “You know what, I’m running out of time, but this has been great. Let’s get started with this software. I can’t wait to really dig in and see what it’s all about. Just let me know how billing works.”

I hadn’t even had to demo the product, and the deal was done.

It sounds crazy to say that all you have to do is shut up and listen and you’ll be able to influence people to do what you want. But just as I persuaded Mike to purchase my software without even showing him what he’d be buying, thousands of decisions to buy are made every day by people who don’t realize how they’ve been influenced to make that decision. Often they’ve been influenced by the people around them, who are simply listening quietly and asking good questions.

Thankfully, that day with Shannon, I reacted quickly and positively to the embarrassment of being called out. I recovered, asked ​questions, shut up and listened, and soon afterward enjoyed closing the largest contract I had ever sold at that time.

FAST First Action Steps to Take:

  1. Write down something you want to sell someone. If you are not a salesperson, think of an idea you want to get someone to adopt (e.g., getting your child to clean her room).
  2. Plan to spend thirty minutes with the person you want to sell, focusing solely on listening, asking questions, and getting that person to talk about her pain and problems.
  3. Set up the time and spend it listening to the other person (not selling).
  4. Note the results. How can you become a better listener?


Bob Kerpen


Dave Kerpen is an entrepreneur, speaker and bestselling author.  He is the founder and CEO of Likeable Local, a social media software company, and the chairman and cofounder of Likeable Media, an award-winning content marketing firm for brands.  He is among the most popular writers in LinkedIn’s Influencer program, is one of the most read contributors for  You can visit him at  And you can purchase his terrific book “The Art of People” by clicking “HERE”


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