Fourteen years ago a mentor taught me an usual lesson on persuasion. I never understood it or believed in it during my brief tenure in sales. In fact, I thought it was complete bullshit. Since becoming a writer I’ve embraced it. Now, I notice it everywhere. It’s one of the least understood phenomena in persuasion and life. Some argue it doesn’t even exist. There may not be any scientific proof of this thing. It may not be observable but we all feel it. I’m talking about momentum.
Did you feel it in the presidential election? The Trump machine grew and became emboldened throughout the campaign. It didn’t matter what he said or what he did. The momentum kept growing and eventually pushed him into office. Along the way, those who despised him jumped on board to avoid getting left behind.
The Knee-Jerk Reaction To Momentum
What did the opposition do to stifle that momentum? Attack, ridicule and discredit with facts were the knee-jerk strategies. Those strategies failed. In fact, I would argue they actually fed into his momentum. Just like a fire without oxygen dies, pumping it with oxygen fuels it to grow stronger.
Momentum works in a similar manner. First, it gathers steam and pushes forward. It can’t go on forever. It needs fuel to survive and a lot more to grow. That fuel often comes in the form of resistance from the opposing side. Remember the last time you were in a heated argument? The anger heats up as you attack each other with verbal assaults. Finally, one of you says “let’s stop for a second. I let my emotions get the best of me. Maybe we both did”
What Really Breaks Momentum
Suddenly, the momentum fades until it disappears. That never happened with the Trump train. The fuel just seemed to flow endlessly allowing the momentum to continue. If counter attacks, ridicule and facts fail, then what tools can we exploit? My sales mentor taught me this a long time ago. It works equally well in written persuasion as it does in face to face sales.
First, agree with your opponent on something relevant. It doesn’t matter how small of an agreement. It just needs to be relevant to the discussion.
“Yes, I agree factory workers are losing jobs at an alarming pace.”
Second, avoid counter arguments that challenge their beliefs. Translation, avoid any counter arguments. Instead, poke tiny holes in their position. How questions accomplish this task well. Frame your question as a search for an answer rather than a probing manner. In other words, don’t frame it in a way that makes it look like you’re trying to catch them in a contradiction.
Finally, end things in a light-hearted manner and a minor compliment. Position it like you are equals, not like you feel a sense of superiority. End it with the understanding that your question remains unsolved for now. “… the answer remains elusive. We need people like us. People with opposing but respectful views, to press on. There’s too much riding on this…”
This approach deprives your opponent of that needed fuel to keep the momentum train going. Of course, in politics you contend with countless numbers of people battling each other all following their own emotions. Coordinating that approach among so many seems impractical.
Ah, but I am not a political writer. I focus on sales and marketing.
Breaking Momentum In Marketing
As a marketer, copywriter or business owner you won’t face the same challenges as a political writer. In a sales letter, ad or article we stay 100% focused on our reader or audience. It’s just you talking to the reader. In this setting, with their full attention, we can break momentum. . It won’t immediately change minds. Rather, it plants a seed. It allows that momentum pendulum to slowly shift back down to neutral. With patience and skill, we can move it from neutral to our advantage.