How to Be Persuasive and Always Get What You Want

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Poor Charlie's Almanack" by Charles T. Munger. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is the secret to mastering how to be persuasive? What is the danger in using psychological tricks to persuade people?

You master how to be persuasive when you learn to use the psychological biases of people to get them to do what you want. This is how brands exploit the social proof bias of fans to get them to buy products promoted by their favorite celebrities. However, leveraging the psychological biases of people can backfire when it is done too transparently or it is used to achieve immoral ends.

Read on master how to be persuasive and get people to do what you want.

How to Be Persuasive

If you want people to do something, often asking them to do it won’t get the best results. Mastering how to be persuasive means taking a more oblique path, especially leveraging the psychological biases we covered in the Poor Charlie’s Almanac book. We’ll cover two examples.

First, Munger gives the example of Captain Cook, who knew his sailors suffered from scurvy. He learned that Dutch ships had less scurvy, and also noticed that they ate lots of sauerkraut (which, possibly unknown to him, contained vitamin C). But touch, ornery English sailors were unlikely to eat sauerkraut, given the rivalry with the Germans and Dutch. Cook also knew he couldn’t tell them to eat sauerkraut to prevent scurvy, since this would tip them into thinking the voyage would be so long they had to mutiny instead. So he relied on social proof and exclusivity—he gave sauerkraut to the officers’ table only, but not to the main crew. The crew looked on enviously, until Cook relented, allowing the crew to eat sauerkraut one day a week. Soon he had the entire crew eating sauerkraut happily.

Second, suppose you’re advising clients who are prone to breaking laws and committing fraud. You have two typical options: 1) decide to quit and not work for him any further, 2) decide that you’re not morally culpable given that he’s doing the cheating, and acquiesce to work for the sake of your mortgage. Instead, Munger argues for a more convincing third option—appeal to his self-interest. Tell him that he can’t commit his widespread fraud without other people knowing about it, and so he’s making himself vulnerable to blackmail and scandal, which will ruin his company, his money, and his family. Appealing to self-interest can often work far better than rationalization.

(Shortform note: For more on appealing to a person’s self-interest, check out the advice in the classic How to Win Friends & Influence People.)

Psychological tricks like this can be powerful, but there is a line at which it can become immoral. And if you do this too transparently, using tools that the other person is aware of, he won’t trust you again.

How to Be Persuasive and Always Get What You Want

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Charles T. Munger's "Poor Charlie's Almanack" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Poor Charlie's Almanack summary:

  • A collection of Charlie Munger’s best advice given over 30 years
  • Why you need to know what you’re good at and what you’re bad at to make decisions
  • Descriptions of the 25 psychological biases that distort how you see the world

Joseph Adebisi

Joseph has had a lifelong obsession with reading and acquiring new knowledge. He reads and writes for a living, and reads some more when he is supposedly taking a break from work. The first literature he read as a kid were Shakespeare's plays. Not surprisingly, he barely understood any of it. His favorite fiction authors are Tom Clancy, Ted Bell, and John Grisham. His preferred non-fiction genres are history, philosophy, business & economics, and instructional guides.

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