026 Tim Vaill: Persuasion

by Tom McDonough Deborah Burkholder on November 16, 2012


Tim Vaill on Career Tips & TrendsInternet radio for savvy professionals –
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Bertrand Russell, the 20th century British philosopher, said, “What is distinctively human at the most fundamental level is the capacity to persuade and be persuaded.”

The ability to influence or persuade is an important competency that affects all areas of our life. Our guest Tim Vaill is here today to share key concepts of persuasion and tips on how we can improve our ability to influence others.

He had an illustrious career in the private sectors of banking and finance before shifting his focus to the public sector. He currently serves as a Special Advisor to Cabinet Secretary for Housing and Economic Development for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Tim has always been interested in the interplay of language, communications and persuasion. After taking a course at the Harvard Kennedy School with Gary Orren on “Persuasion: The Science and Art of Effective Influence” he has been hooked and assisting in the course ever since.

We’d love to hear from you in terms of your actionable takeaways from this episode.

Leave a comment or send us an email.

Listen to the full interview by clicking player above.

Here are some exurps from today’s interview…

From the show

All of us, I think, try to be persuasive  but it wasn’t until I decided to study the science that I  discovered there are specific principles of persuasion that can  make you even better at that…

I think all of our life we are trying to persuade our parents to stay up late at night or to walk home from school or whatever  but we didn’t employ, at least logically, the key principles involved.

Persuasion can be   simply defined as symbolic process where communicators try to convince other people to change their attitudes or behaviors…

It is just that simple.  The key here is to be sure to think about the framework in which you want that person to move to your view or your thought.  Since I became a student of this subject I now think about the principles of persuasion and the principles, therefore, at almost every opportunity.

Let me talk about some of the principles that come to mind but before I do that I need to underscore the fact that we are all in a persuasive situations all the time.

There are many frameworks that people use but the main one that I think about has the following five framework components:  ethos, pathos, logos, agora, syzygy.

I mentioned earlier there are several elements to persuasion and these were developed over the years by writers and others who consider themselves experts in this.  There are 15 or 20 key elements of persuasion such as know your audience; things like scarcity…

Very important is your ability to listen and listen very carefully.  You might think you know your audience when you walk in the door  but you have to, in fact, listen very carefully and if you have done your research ahead of time you are ready to listen and create perhaps the most important work ever.  Here again you have to make your audience realize you are on their side of the line in terms of dealing with a particular topic and understand where they are coming from.

The other principle that I wanted to talk about syzygy.  It is making sure that what you are talking about is relevant to the other person.  It may be relevant to you but if it is not to the other person, you can employ all the other principles you want to and you aren’t going to make any headway here.

I think you have to go back to some other principles that you can put into place. We have all been using persuasion throughout our lives even though we don’t think of it as such.  What I have learned is there is a real science to it so you have to stop and think.  Using metaphors and analogies are very important because you can really relate to the other side by putting salient information in the context that they can understand.

If you go back to the framework and the whole logos business.  The logos is the message and if the message isn’t convincing and you aren’t logically moving through an argument that makes sense then you have a problem.  You have to stop and think before you walk into the room “what is my story?  What is my logos?”   What is the logical framework that I am going to use to convince them that I am the right person?

Another quote I will give you is from Elliot Richardson who was originally a Massachusetts native and who served as Secretary of Defense…  This is a very well known, persuasive guy but he said that in running the government only 2% of the problem is making the decision.  98% is persuading others to accept the decision.

Dwight Eisenhower back a few years ago didn’t use the word persuasion but it really comes through in one of his quotes and that is “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to.”  I will leave you with that because if you can do that then you are very very persuasive.

Listen to the full interview by clicking player above.

We’d love to hear from you in terms of your actionable takeaways from this episode.

Leave a comment or send us an email.

Tim Vaill Recommended Resources



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Listen to the full interview by clicking player above.



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