persuasion“Time to go in!” called the preschool teacher. The youngsters left the playground and straggled toward the building. All except little Bobby. He sauntered in the opposite direction, glancing over his shoulder to see if the teacher was watching.

I saw this as my chance to be useful. As a new preschool aide, I was eager to prove my worth. I walked towards Bobby, planning to take him by the hand. He giggled and ran away. I broke into a run, but he took off with surprising speed.

“That’s okay, Connie. Let him go,” said the teacher.

I abandoned the pursuit and returned to the group by the school door. Bobby stopped running when I stopped chasing. As the teacher led the way into the school, Bobby came hurrying towards us. We went inside without him, but I watched through a window until he safely entered the building and made his way to the preschool room on his own.

From this encounter with childish willfulness, I learned a lesson that applies to people of all ages: if you want them to cooperate willingly, you have to leave them free to say  “no.”

The wise teacher knew that Bobby was testing the limits of his freedom. She wanted him to discover that he had a real choice and that she trusted him to do the right thing.

Adult behavior is more subtle, but we still want a real choice and we want to be trusted to make good decisions. We instinctively resist attempts to coerce, manipulate or bribe us. We want to feel good about the choices we make. There can be no virtue where there is no freedom.

Over the years, my attempts to be persuasive have sometimes backfired, turning a tentative “yes” into a definite “no.”  I come on too strong, making the person feel pressured, or I come on too timid, as if to say, “Don’t be mad at me for asking…”

These pitfalls can be avoided if we bring the right attitudes to each encounter. When making requests or trying to persuade others, we should give them:

Faith: Believe that they want to do the right thing. Don’t insult their character by trying to “bribe” them or pressure them to do what they already know they should.

Freedom: Leave them room to craft a wise response. Give them time to think. Bite your tongue and listen. Don’t second-guess what their answer will be.

Respect: Once their decision is made, accept it as fact. Although you may not agree with their choice, you respect their right to make it. Believe that they mean what they say. No pleading. No browbeating. No resentment. Move forward with whatever plans you’ll need to make to adjust to their decision.

When people know we respect their right to say “no,” they won’t mind if we approach them with other requests in the future. Communication becomes simple and honest. When they occasionally say “yes,” we know that they sincerely mean it.

Persuasiveness should never be a “trick” or technique to get people to do things. Meaningful influence is built on trust. People are most likely to listen to those who have proven themselves trustworthy by respecting the freedom of others.


  1. Your post is full of wisdom that we all need to follow. Connecting the message to the willful child makes it more clear. Thank you, Connie.

  2. I like this. I have often thought God gives us children so we can better understand our relationship with him as the Father. This post underscores that for me. I am often that willful child. He gives me free will, respects my choices, but longs for me to make the right choices. Thanks for the post. I love the perspective.

  3. shawnelle eliasen says:

    Very thoughtful Connie. Thank you. I’m going to re read and apply to some life situations.

  4. Connie this blesses me to also take the pressure off myself to HAVE to convince someone and to feel like a failure when I do not. I too will be applying this is many areas of my life! Keep writing girlfriend you are filled with His wisdom!

  5. Pamela, Rebecca, Shawnelle, Donna, thank you for your thoughtful comments. I love how God shows us each a slightly different perspective so we can help each other learn.