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Understand the Other Person


Techniques Persuasion 101 > Understand the Other Person

Description | Example | Discussion | See also



When you are seeking to influence or persuade another person (or group), take time to understand them before launching into a standardized sales pitch.

Things to consider when seeking to understand others include:

  • Their basic motivations, including how their basic needs are driving them and their values for what is right and wrong.
  • What they may like, want or really must have from their interaction with you.
  • Their preferences that may drive them in one direction or another.
  • How other people, such as spouses, managers and friends, may be influencing their decisions (or may need to verify them).
  • How they understand you (including positive, negative and neutral biases).
  • How time is affecting them, including the urgency for any action or agreement.
  • What resources they have available that may assume they have, for example money (if you are selling).
  • Their history of actions, achievements, etc. that might predict how they will behave with you.
  • Their negotiating style, in particular whether this is collaborative or competitive.

If you can, take time to research the other person before the engagement with them. The extent of time you spend on this will have practical limits based on such as the time you have, the availability of information and the importance of the interaction. Depending on the situation you may research them online (there may be much here), ask questions of their peers, or read between the lines of things they have written, said or done.

In the interaction with them, use this understanding carefully. It can be alarming for them if you tell all you know, especially if any of this is embarrassing. Knowledge is power and judicious use of this can be more beneficial if you deploy your understanding carefully and appropriately.

You can also spend time during the interaction testing knowledge and seeking further understanding about the person. Again, make sure your understanding is valid before taking assumptive action that you may later regret. Ask good questions and listen carefully to answers and you may learn very useful information. Especially when they say things that you did not expect, use this to challenge your own understanding of them.


An interviewee researches the interviewer and brings up a paper they have written. The interviewer is pleasantly surprised that the interviewee has shown both initiative and personal interest in her.

A child listens to parental conversations and brings up things they have said and wanted in the past as a part of their influencing strategy.

Sales organizations keep databases of all customer interactions so their sales people can optimally interact with them.


It is very easy to assume that other people are thinking in a certain way when they may be thinking quite differently or simply not considering things that you may believe to be very important. If you do not pause to understand this then you are risking misunderstanding, insult or other problems that make you look foolish and make them back off from the interaction.

In practice you may not have time to find out much about the other person, in which case be careful when you are speaking with them. If you can, take time to question and and listen. Even simple listening to what they want to say can give you a lot of useful information.

See also

Relationships, Personality, Psychoanalysis


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