Book Box: Become a Master Persuader

Feb 28, 2023 08:46 AM IST

Use these five techniques to get what you want. And meet Akash Rebello, the man who makes a living from persuasion.

Dear Reader,

Meet Akash Rebello. PREMIUM
Meet Akash Rebello.

Tell me about a time you failed to persuade somebody, I ask my students.

I wanted to study history, but my parents insisted I do engineering.

My employer refused to sponsor my MBA.

My parents forbade me from going on trips with my friends, are some responses.

We are back in our regular classroom on the seventh floor of the NMIMS building in Mumbai. It’s time today to pick the words we use to better persuade people - from sponsoring MBAs to rental agreements and remote working to romance. Putting PowerPoint presentations aside, we move on to these five super helpful books - each illustrating a different persuasion technique.

Rule 1 of 5: Begin with the Kids

How to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen, And How to Listen So Your Kids Will Talk.
How to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen, And How to Listen So Your Kids Will Talk.

This book will give you the keys to the kiddie kingdom. Plus a surprising bonus - it works brilliantly for adults too.

So say, your boss has just yelled at you and stalked off. You vent to a friend, who might say Don’t be upset, Life is like that, You must have done something to trigger your boss, Maybe your boss is stressed and doesn’t mean it or I had a boss who was just like that, you know one time.

These well-meant responses will likely make you madder, say Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. They advise your friend to try saying Boy, that sounds rough. To be subjected to an attack like that in front of other people must have been pretty hard to take. This labels and validates your feelings and is more likely to calm you down, so you are open to the next step. How to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen, And How to Listen So Your Kids Will Talk is filled with many real-life examples, outlined in an easy-to-read way. Each chapter has a set of exercises too, where you write out the words to persuade kids (and people around you) to change certain behaviours.

Rule 2 of 5: Truly Listen

You're Not Listening.
You're Not Listening.

We did a fun exercise in class where we recorded ourselves in arguments with other people. The results were surprising. We knew we should be good listeners, so nobody interrupted anyone else. But we discovered we engaged in many other bad listener behaviours - we looked away when we disagreed, we barely waited for the other person to take a breath before jumping in with a perfunctory ‘I understand, but..’ and moved swiftly onto making our case. You’re Not Listening does a fabulous job of describing and labelling the behaviours that hinder our listening. Like the assumption - I know what you are going to say.

Rule 3 of 5: Dare to Say It

Crucial Conversations.
Crucial Conversations.

Crucial conversations have three characteristics - they are high stakes, involve differences of opinion, and are strong on emotion. All too often these conversations come up suddenly, they catch us unaware and we are at our worst when we need to be at our best, in instances where someone’s actions disproportionately affect our life. Learning to speak up in an effective way at this time, can improve your relationships, improve your career prospects and even improve your health, say the authors of Crucial Conversations. The book has useful advice on how to prepare for high-stakes situations and how to transform feelings of anger and resentment into effective dialogue.

Rule 4 of 5: Use these Magic Words

Exactly What To Say.
Exactly What To Say.

Changing a couple of words can make all the difference in the results you get from your conversations, says Phil Jones. Spend an hour skim-reading Exactly What to Say and take mental notes of its list of 23 magic words and phrases to use. So if somebody says I will think about it, you could try saying the following

What makes you say that?

Just out of curiosity, what is it specifically that you need time to think about?

thereby keeping the conversation going and learning more about their constraints and reservations so that you can address them.

Rule 5 of 5: Learn Leadership Language

Leadership is Language.
Leadership is Language.

A ship sinks because the crew fails to persuade their Captain not to sail into the eye of a storm, in the true life story at the start of Leadership is Language. This story is used to offer insights into the kind of words and questions leaders should use. Some examples include seeking contrary opinions with comments like You seem very quiet. Are you seeing things differently? Avoid questions with binary responses - ask: How ready are we? instead of Are we ready?

Finally meet master persuader Akash Rebello, Advocate, Bombay High Court, who picks up lessons in persuasion from everything he reads - from fantasy to magic realism to history and autobiography. Edited excerpts of our conversation.

Akash Rebello.
Akash Rebello.

Tell us about your early reading.

I was at Government Law College in Mumbai which was quite laissez-faire in terms of attendance. I had a lot of time and I read a lot. My dad had a lovely collection of Russian masters. Those days because of India’s ties with the Soviet Union you could get very cheap versions of these books. I remember loving Mother by Maxim Gorky because it was so character driven. Also And Quiet Flows the Don by the Nobel Prize-winning Sholakhov. I read a lot of political theory. Somebody gifted me Discovery of India by Jawaharlal Nehru, after which I read Letters to From a Father to His Daughter.

What were some books that taught you persuasion?

So many. Everything bleeds into it. I like reading books on war, history and military strategy. If you take Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, for instance, he says when you are in a position of weakness, appear strong. It’s military doctrine but it can be applied to so many areas of life including negotiation.

Take a magic realism book like Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. I read it in college and was blown away. It is a critical review of so many things, on a massive canvas of time and space. But it still maintains a basic critique in simple terms. It questions beliefs - to what extent do you accept religious doctrine?

A book I recently read is Why be Happy When You Can Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson. She tells her story with such lightness, simply putting the stark facts before you, letting you draw your conclusion. This can be the most effective way of persuasion. Sometimes in court when you have a proactive judge before you, all you need to do is simply present the facts and the judge will himself say this is the conclusion and this is way more effective than if you had put the conclusion out yourself.

I also had a very unusual recommendation for books on persuasion. I was at dinner at a cousin’s house and I found myself sitting next to a psychiatrist. He said, read The Game. If you want to understand human emotions, human relationships, what motivates people, how they achieve their motivations, and to what extent they have a moral compass, read this book. I’d heard of this book before as a very misogynistic book, but this was a different way of looking at it.

Does reading fiction help your day job in other ways too?

I’ve always enjoyed fiction. As a kid, I loved Tolkien for fantasy and adventure. But when you look back on it, there is so much more - like the idea that the smallest most inconsequential person can sometimes have a disproportionate effect. You shouldn’t dismiss anybody who appears simple.So you have lords and great battles but it is some hobbit from a little village who holds the fate of the world in his hands. I think that’s the core of The Lord of The Rings in many ways.

Fiction stirs the imagination, it gives you perspective. Of course, history does this as well but sometimes you should read something that pushes the boundaries of human thought. Because fiction is not just what has happened, it is what can be. It helps you think of the world in different ways. Take magic realism for instance, if you are used to reading a simple narrative, it can be a bit jarring. But if you challenge yourself you find some logic in this juxtaposition of magical realism with reality, you are finding new ways of seeing the world, and you are challenging yourself in ways you are not used to.

Tell us about books in other genres you’ve enjoyed.

I love travelogues. At a little bookstore in Gulmarg which has now closed I think, I found A Journey from Peking to Kashmir by Peter Fleming, the brother of Ian Fleming. It's absolutely delightful.

Another book I enjoyed is by an Australian called Tim Cope who got it into his head to follow the trail of Genghis Khan on horseback, even though he had never ridden a horse. So he does this and tells his story in On the Trail of Genghis Khan.

I also love books on sport. I recently read this beautiful little book called Field of Shadows – about the tour of a British cricket team to Nazi Germany. The story is not just about cricket but it also tells of what happens to these guys during and after the war. A friend sent this book to the Tata Lit Live Literature Festival -they loved it they invited the author Dan Waddell to come to Mumbai. He did and I got to have breakfast with him at the Cricket Club of India!


With this, it’s a wrap. Next week we move into March, which is a great opportunity to explore lots of fabulous writing on women, much of it by women - everything from good girls and bad to invisible women and difficult women.

Until then, Happy Reading.

Sonya Dutta Choudhury is a Mumbai-based journalist and the founder of Sonya’s Book Box, a bespoke book service. Each week, she brings you specially curated books to give you an immersive understanding of people and places. If you have any reading recommendations or suggestions, write to her at

The views expressed are personal

Enjoy unlimited digital access with HT Premium

Subscribe Now to continue reading
Story Saved
Live Score
Saved Articles
My Reads
My Offers
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Saturday, June 10, 2023
Start 14 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now
Register Free and get Exciting Deals