How Emotionally Intelligent People Use the ‘Warren Buffett Rule’ to Become Exceptionally Persuasive


Do people think of emotional intelligence when they think of Warren Buffett? They probably should.

Because, there’s a key quote that Buffett is known for that amounts to a 21-word cheat sheet on how to use emotional intelligence to become much more persuasive. 

Here’s the quote: “I don’t look to jump over seven-foot bars; I look around for one-foot bars that I can step over.”

Buffett was talking about business opportunities, but it applies to persuasion opportunities, too. Emotionally intelligent people know that there are simple rhetorical tactics you can use to find those one-foot bars in conversation, and become exceptionally persuasive. 

1. They make sure they have a clear, understandable message.

Nobody likes homework, but sorry: this is homework before you begin the conversation. It falls into the category of “things that seem like they’re self-explanatory and that everyone would know to do, but aren’t.” 

Emotionally intelligent people understand that persuasion involves making requests, and that the odds of them being accepted depend on knowing how to articulate them effectively.

Think of the times you’ve been in conversations, or on the receiving end of a pitch, or when you’ve talked with someone who you know wanted to change your mind — and yet, at the end, you can’t articulate exactly what they hoped you’d do or believe.

Emotions get in the way, even if you don’t want them to: Confusion, frustration. You’ll never get where you want to go, if you can’t describe where it is.

2. They ask a lot of questions.

This one is easy: On average, the rule is to ask two questions for every one declarative statement. Emotionally intelligent people understand that this gives them three key advantages:

  • First, the questions signal continuous interest. Everyone likes to talk about themselves; questions are an invitation to do that.
  • Second, they gather information. You want to locate the easy targets that make persuasion more likely; the way you do that is by asking questions.
  • Third, they don’t fall into the trap of mistaking their positions for other people’s.

You know what your position is. You probably know how you feel about it.

But the point here is to learn about what the other person in your conversation believes and how he or she feels, and you do that by asking questions instead of assuming knowledge. That’s where you find the pathway to opportunity.

3. They stay silent.

A conversation is more than one interaction. It’s a whole series of interconnected mini-interactions. Emotionally intelligent people recognize that having a bias toward silence during these interactions does two things:

  • First, it entices the other person to fill the science. The maximum amount of time that people can bear silence in a conversation before it becomes awkward is four seconds. So push past the awkward stage.
  • Second, silence prevents you from acting rashly and from a place of uncontrolled emotion. 

Actually, Buffett has a pithy quote about this point, too: “You can always tell someone to go to hell tomorrow.” A bias toward silence means there’s no need to do it right now.

4. They listen.

It’s easy to get so caught up in the tactics of persuasion that you forget to listen. Heck, it’s easy to get bored, and let your mind wander.

But, emotionally intelligent people understand that many of the other tactics we’ve described here don’t work unless you force yourself to listen accurately.

So, they hold onto conversational tricks for the moments when they realize they haven’t paid attention well enough:

  • “Can you put that a different way? I really want to understand.”
  • “Say that again so I’m sure I’m following you.”
  • And perhaps my favorite, all-purpose conversational retort: “Say a little more.” 

Use them as needed. Only, make sure you pay attention and listen.

5. They seek to imprint the image of the request.

It’s hard to be persuasive if you’re not memorable. So, emotionally intelligent people seek to imprint the image of their cause or argument on the other person’s memory, by using more than one sense if possible.

I’ve written separately before about this tactic, and the best example I’ve personally seen: When my accountant, who also happens to be one of my best friends,  sent me a Bible in the mail, then called me to ask me to swear on it that I would give him my tax prep information on time next year.

For once in my life, I got everything in more or less on time. Why did it work so well — and so much better than if he’d simply pleaded with me or cajoled to get me to send him my info?

Because it leveraged so many senses and emotions: anticipation after he told me to look for a package, humor, physicality, and simultaneous audio and visual communication.

Ultimately, he didn’t just persuade me; he got me to act. The fact that he imprinted the image like this made it all the harder for me to ignore.

Look, if there’s a single recurring subject that business leaders ask about, it’s emotional intelligence. And if there’s one specific goal they want to achieve by improving their emotional intelligence, it’s to become more persuasive. 

It’s fascinating, and it’s why I’ve compiled a long list of simple tricks you can use to improve emotional intelligent in my free ebook, 9 Smart Habits of People With Very High Emotional Intelligence.

Leverage them all, and you might find you’re using your emotions effectively to achieve more goals, in business and in life. 

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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