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Understand What They Want


Techniques Persuasion 101 > Understand What They Want

Description | Example | Discussion | See also



After spending whatever time you have available in understanding the other person (even if it is simply pausing for a quick think before you dive into a persuasion that may not work), focus in on what they want that you might be able to use in order to persuade them.

You may be able to identify a simple desire, such that you can say 'If you do this, I'll give you that'. Negative desires may also be valid, so you might say 'If you do not do as I say, you will lose that' (this may be a statement of fact rather than a threat). You can also think creatively, for example considering things they may not consciously want but for which desire may be stimulated, such as desire for new technology, social inclusion or more time to do the things they like doing.

The simplest way to understand wants is to ask them, although what they think they want and what they actually want may be different. Importantly, these may have different persuasive value. If they are reticent about this or simply have not thought about it, you may need to do more research, for example asking people they know or looking at their past words and activities.


A parent knows that their children like playing games and so uses 'play time' as a persuader.

A sales person goes beyond basic product functionality and seeks to persuade a customer that they are getting a one-off bargain.

A manager knows their subordinate is ambitious, so uses potential promotion as a persuasive carrot. They weave this into conversation to test the strength of desire and then use suitable suggestions.


When people want something, they can have highly variable strength of desire, ranging from it being a weak 'it would be nice' to a very strong 'must have'. The greater the desire, the more they will do to get what they want.

Negative wants are things that they actively do not want, such as becoming ill or being sacked. These can also be very useful in persuasion and it is consequently worth knowing what these might be.

Most persuasions are also negotiations in some style or other, where you are giving the other person something in order to get what you want, even if it is simply attention and gratitude. People also have complex motivations and a general understanding of these is always helpful.

When there is more time, for example in formal international trade deals, the detail of potential wants may be mapped out as a source for negotiation strategy. For example this can lead to discovery of elegant negotiables.

See also

Understand What You Want, Motivation, Needs, Wants and Likes


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