How to persuade

We can all learn something from the activities of the government’s so-called Nudge Unit, which applies elementary psychology to make it easier for people to act in their own and the public interest – insulate lofts, keep cars off the streets, pay taxes etc.

Its official name is the Behavioural Insights Team, and the headline “Pay your tax or lose your car”, composed for the DVLA, was a very effective example of scare tactics in action. Almost instantly, it doubled the number of people who paid their car tax on time. But there are many other persuasive techniques, and one of my favourites is flattery.

Whenever I suspect that it will be difficult to convince someone to come round to my point of view, I always look for something in their position with which I agree. “You are quite right…” I say or write, and describe their rightness on one particular aspect of the issue, before going on to introduce other considerations.

In my experience, someone who is smiling inwardly at being recognised for their rightness is much more amenable to reason.

You’re right to be sceptical of glib advice, but might you try it all the same?