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Understand What You Want


Techniques Persuasion 101 > Understand What You Want

Description | Example | Discussion | See also



When you are going to persuade somebody of something, it helps if you are clear about what you want from the interaction. This may seem like a silly question, but persuasions often go wrong when people do not fully understand what they want.

  • Purpose: Consider your real purpose in wanting something from another person. Are you trying to achieve something specific? Purpose is often to satisfy needs, but what are these? What is your goal in the persuasion?
  • Values: After purpose, you may want to consider values. In other words, think about whether it is right to ask for what you want. In this, consider both your own moral position and also how you may be judged by others.
  • Importance: Also consider importance of things you may want. In particular separate those things you must have from things you would like to have. In this, think about what would happen if you did not get what you want. 'Must haves' will have serious consequences if they are not gained.
  • Relationship: When you want to get others to do something, it is easy for the relationship to either be important or to get in the way somehow. Consider how you want the relationship with them to be after the persuasion.

Overall, the effort you put into examining what you really want should be balanced with the size of the potential gain and the potential risk of failure. If it is a big deal, think carefully. If it is something small, pause to consider but do not spend long on this.


I ask a friend to help me choose some clothing. Actually I really just want their company. Considering values of honesty, I add this point when asking them.

In a job interview, a person wants to exaggerate to get the important job to help pay the mortgage, but lying is against their values. They make a point of using honest comments. The interviewer realizes that they are not pumping up their resume and this counts towards their getting the job.


Purpose is surprisingly infrequently understood, often because it is complex or that there is an underlying reason that you have not realized. You have to be honest with this, as sometimes what people really want is to gain or sustain status more than to get help in some way.

There is often inner conflict between doing whatever it takes to persuade a person (including using negative methods such as threats or lies) and the social good of doing what is right and which will preserve relationships. To balance this, we often convince ourselves that little exaggerations and white lies are ok. In the end, only you can decide what is right for you.

When you want many things from another person, there is a question as to whether you should ask for everything at once or ask for one at a time. Often, it is better to consider what you are mostly likely to be granted and then to balance risk in failure of attempted persuasion against the potential return.

See also

Needs, Wants and Likes, Decisions, Motivation


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