Masters of persuasion don’t need to say a lot

(Writer Hal Foster appears here under a partnership with Tengrinews)

I’m teaching a course at Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev University this semester on Presentation Skills — or what used to be known as Speech Communication.

One of the course requirements is a persuasive speech. To succeed in their quest to persuade others, the student speakers have to prepare compelling arguments and offer rock-solid evidence.

As I was thinking about the skills it takes to persuade others, I remembered a story that an Australian friend told me about two of the most persuasive guys in Kazakhstan. Let’s call them Vlad and Stas.

Vlad and Stas’ ability to persuade does not spring from finely tuned rhetorical skills. On the contrary, they are men of few words. But they’re master persuaders nonetheless.

Here’s the story that my friend, a businessman whom I’ll call Jeremy, told me about Vlad and Stas:

Jeremy, who does an excellent business selling heavy equipment in Kazakhstan, hired a Web page designer in Almaty to create a site that would make his business even better.

He paid the designer a tidy sum, then realized he needed to make some small but important changes to the content on the site.

But the greedy designer – let’s call him Yuri — demanded a huge second payment to make the changes.

Jeremy asked Yuri several times to make the changes at reasonable cost, but Yuri refused.

In the United States there’s an unpleasant name for the game Yuri was playing. It’s called extortion.

Jeremy has a great country manager for his business, a guy I’ll call Nikita. Nick has long idolized Jeremy for giving him a wonderful work opportunity. In fact, Nick admires him so much that he’d do anything for Jeremy.

So Nick decided to call Yuri himself to see if he could end the standoff over the Website changes.

“I called several times, but he wouldn’t listen – he always demanded a lot more money,” Nick told me.

Finally, Nick decided to call the most persuasive guys he knew to convince Yuri to do what he was supposed to.

“When I was a young guy in Shymkent, I ran around with a gang,” Nick said. “I was heading for trouble, but thankfully I broke away and carved out a good life for myself.”

He’s still friends with some of the gang, though — including Vlad and Stas. So he asked the two for a favor.

A few days later, Vlad and Stas showed up at Yuri’s Web-site design office in Almaty.

Nick didn’t tell me what Vlad and Stas look like. But I imagine each to be about 6 -feet tall and 240 pounds, with shaved heads, black T-shirts, tattoos, scars and gravelly voices.

“Vlad and Stas didn’t say much to Yuri when they arrived at his office,” Nick told me. “They just stood over him while he made the changes to Jeremy’s website that he was supposed to have made months before.”

The suddenly generous Yuri didn’t even charge for the changes, Nick grinned. Not even a kopek.

Only five minutes after they’d arrived at Yuri’s office, Vlad and Stas were tooling down the road on their return trip to Shymkent.

How about that for persuasion?

After Jeremy and Nick told me this story, I thought to myself: “You know, I often invite guest speakers to my classes – people with unusual expertise to share with my students. Maybe I should invite Vlad and Stas.”

Then I thought better of it. After all, they wouldn’t have a lot to say to the students.

They’re masters of persuasion – but men of few words.