How To Write Persuasively With Joshua Lisec Ep. | 184

COGE 184 | Persuasive Writing

If you don’t know the right persuasive writing methods, even one email can destroy a relationship. Joining Eric Anderton is written word expert Joshua Lisec.  Joshua talks about how poor persuasive writing can make recipients feel under attack, mistrusted, or manipulated. He also presents his three-step process of creating well-written messages that invoke the intended emotions and actions without having to spend hours or days on writing.

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How To Write Persuasively With Joshua Lisec

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You are a construction company owner or leader. You are not an English major, but you must be excellent in your written communication if you’re going to be effective. That’s why I am very excited to welcome to the show, Joshua Lisec. He is an expert in the written word. He has developed courses to help professionals communicate more clearly, and he is going to share with us a number of tremendously important insights to help you as a construction professional communicate via the written word much more effectively. Enjoy my interview with Joshua. Check out the links so that you can learn more about the work that he does and benefit from that. 

Joshua, welcome to the show.

I’m pleased to be here. Thanks for having me on.

You are a well-known expert in the realm of written communication. In my experience working with construction companies, it is often the written word that causes the most damage. I’ll give you an example. I was chatting with one of my clients. He’s a young project manager, super talented, but a little bit volatile. He was telling me about an incident where he received an email from a supplier. He didn’t like the email and he immediately blasted back via email. It had a negative impact on the relationship. Can you speak as an expert in written communication on how to handle those kinds of high-pressure emotional situations in written form?

This one example of putting someone on blast in the context of the supplier also allows us to zoom out on how to be more effective at written communication, written form and all areas in the company at all levels from an intern or subcontract, all the way up to the C-Suite to the precedent. Let’s take this one example. What is the desired outcome? The desired outcome is to persuade, AKA to get the other person to want to do what you want them to do. In short, that is persuasion.

What I do is I often ghostwrite persuasive content from blogs, articles, to emails, up to books. One of the things that we’ve learned is that escalatory communication is anti-persuasive. Meaning you’re giving someone a reason not to want to do what you want them to do. The best way to deescalate is to sanitize that blasting email of emotion. That way, you are just speaking the facts. They can be easily agreed upon and mutually verified by both parties. You’re not making it personal.

Making it personal is anti-persuasive, putting the person on the defensive, feeling like they’re being attacked. The relationship is at risk. Now the problem is not the problem. The problem is the people. People’s problems can derail even a profitable construction project. Sanitize it of emotion. The simplest way to do this so that you can communicate effectively in the email, even when someone did something wrong and they need to fix it, is to eliminate the word you, “You did this. When I sent this to you, you were supposed to do this. You didn’t get back with me. The agreement said that you were supposed to.” All of that would be considered violent communication.

Adverbs are used to clarify. However, it is also used to modify a lie to make it appear true. Share on X

Meaning you are attacking the other person with your words. You’re getting them to be on the defensive. Shields up. Cortisol is pumping now, and they feel that they’re being attacked. The quickest way to get the outcome you desire in business and your emails is the sanitizing of emotion. Simply state the facts, state them clearly and without adverbs. Anyone who follows me on social media knows that I call these bad verbs. I point out that adverbs are what we use when we lie and exaggerate.

For example, “I literally explained to you,” you might have written, but from your perspective, they would say, “You literally did not explain that to us.” “You make me very upset.” Very sounds like you’ve triggered yourself and worked yourself up into an emotional state. By removing adverbs, we can simply state facts without emotion and without agonizing about the situation. By removing the word, you, we were no longer putting the person on the defensive. We’re simply able to state a fact. This is one simple adjustment to the emails you’re sending in a problem context where you need to get someone to do something, and it’s helpful if you can help them want to do what you want them to do.

The escalatory, nonviolent language does not put them on the defensive. Remove the adverbs. Remove the you-based attacks in directions by simply sending what you need to be done and how it helps everyone involved. Use language like, “So that we can,” because, and in order to. Those three simple phrases are your friend for persuasive writing, “because we want to make sure that we’re able to pay you on time. So that we can both get the terms of our agreement. In order to protect our relationship and make sure everyone feels good about it.” It’s not macho language, but do you want to have a literary punch to the gut at one of your key suppliers? Is that what you want to land? Not if you want to persuade friends.

You got to help me here because my grammar understanding sucks. Define for me what is an adverb. You gave us the idea that adverbs are for lying or exaggerating. Tell me exactly what an adverb is.

An adverb is a word that modifies a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. It’s that modification that can be clarifying and helpful. However, most of the time, it is used to modify a lie to make it appear true. I regularly have viral tweets about this. What I did was use a positive example of modifying a fact. I said, “I regularly put out tweets on this.” Regularly modifies the explanation of it. What intervals do I do this? I tweet out. Do I tweet out once? You need more information. I’m clarifying what I mean. I tweet about this a lot. If you follow me, you will see at least once a day I am pointing out someone using adverbs to manipulate.

Journalists, politicians, people who have a chip on their shoulder or political points to score often use this the most. Someone will say, for example, “Trump literally killed millions during the pandemic himself, and he was completely happy about it.” Totally, completely, literally, it didn’t happen. They have taken a lie, “He killed millions.” No, he didn’t. Whether you agree with the handling of the pandemic as the way that it was early on or not, Fauci and friends or not. What we’ve done is we’ve made an assertion, and we tried to modify the assertion to make it feel true.

COGE 184 | Persuasive Writing
Persuasive Writing: By removing adverbs, you can state facts without emotion or agonize a situation. You were no longer putting the person on the defensive when communicating with them.

 

You’ll see this often with adverbs that are all over the place inside of tweets, news stories, headlines, and even in official communications. We are getting way out seemingly away from the construction industry, but it does have an application with communication inside and outside of construction companies to get bigger products at better locations with bigger budgets. Let’s talk about this example of this tweet that I put out, “The official FDA statement on artificial sweeteners is that they are ‘generally safe.’”

“When we hear about experimental therapies, we are told that they are ‘very safe and completely effective or generally effective.’” What we have here is an admission of deceit. I will regularly tell people that manipulation requires adverbs and persuasion does not. If the truth can stand on its own, you don’t need to necessarily modify it. The one exception is useful clarification to get your point across. For example, if I’m introducing a new topic, the fact that I talk about adverbs, and I say, “I tweet about it daily,” daily is the ly word. That’s usually how you could spot adverbs, or they’re modifying a verb like, “I just told you.” Just is the adverb and it is escalatory language. This is why we talked at the outset about sanitizing communications of adverbs.

“You completely missed my point. I needed to totally understand this. I literally just said this. Call me immediately.” Escalatory language, violent communication. Violent, meaning like, “I feel like you’re attacking me with sticks and stones.” It’s not any of that stuff. It puts the person on the defensive. We sit up in the chair a little bit, and the cortisol is going. The person’s biochemicals are reacting as if there is a literal physical, violent threat coming from the other homosapiens across the savannah. That’s literally what’s happening. That right there using the word literally is a useful modification to describe the fact. What I’m describing of the biochemical experience of being put on blast in an email is the same experience of seeing, let’s say, an enemy tribe with spears headed your way.

You’re on the defensive. Most of us, fortunately, don’t live in that context anymore. We do not want our friends, customers, suppliers, vendors, employees, and C-Suite feeling like you’re coming at him with a spear. That is the point of persuasive communication. If we remove anti-persuasive communication by default, we become more persuasive.

How do I ensure that my written communication is clear? We’ve talked about removing adverbs, but what is the difference between clear communication and unclear communication?

Unclear communication is marked by abstractions, theoreticals, free from examples. Clear communication is defined by sensory descriptions. What we know about the brain is that we are simulation creators. Meaning our brains, through sensory input, generate simulations inside of our heads of what the world is like.

Manipulation requires adverbs, while persuasion does not. If the truth can stand on its own, you don't need to necessarily modify it. Share on X

Is that another way of saying stories inside our heads?

Yes, stories are multisensory, “Here goes the protagonist down the street. Here comes the antagonist.” We can see it. The multisensory story is the best way to communicate with clarity, saying precisely what you mean so that the simulation in your head that your brain is running is in close proximity to the reality you’re trying to get communicated about the project, deadline, and difficulty with the client as multisensory as possible. Literally describe, what do you see, hear, and feel? How does it taste, even? Rather than abstractions. A good example of this is to use actual examples.

If you were to say, “We need more efficiency on this project,” the efficiency is not a sensory experience. What do you mean? What we have here is, unfortunately , escalatory language, even violent communication, defensive, “Does that mean your inefficient or inefficient?” Job is at risk of getting fired, lose everything and the house. The spear is coming at them. If we were described, rather than, “We want you to stop being inefficient. We want you to be more efficient,” what exactly does efficiency look like? What are you hearing from people around you to be able to tell that the project is being run efficiently?

How does the client feel when it’s efficient? What we are doing is we’re giving multisensory communication to describe what you want. This means it’s persuasive. Remember we said persuasion is you get the other person to want to do what you want them to do? We want to do so ethically with integrity, not try to use dark manipulation or tricks or anything like that, but with accuracy and truth. The easiest way to do that is to paint the picture of the reality that you want so that they can grasp it.

The first step of persuasion is that they comprehend what it is that you want them to do. We can get to that. If you describe what it is you want to be done in the project, situation, quote, conversation, or what have you, what are you seeing when the reality you want is true? One way we hear about this is benchmarks, milestones, or deadlines. Those are literal things that we can see and measure. What are we hearing from the client? How does the client feel about this? Is that a fast pace or is it a slower pace? Speak in multisensory terms.

We began the discussion by talking about how to take emotion out of written communication. Now we’re talking about how to put emotion or sensory experience into written communication.

COGE 184 | Persuasive Writing
Persuasive Writing: Unclear communication is marked by abstractions. On the other hand, clear communication is defined by sensory descriptions and connects with people who are naturally simulation creators.

 

It is the removal of emotions we don’t want, thus allowing us to replace them with the emotions we do not want. It’s the elimination of anti-persuasion, which puts people on the defensive, is repulsive, and escalates unnecessarily. It can cause a disruption in the relationship or, worse, replacing it with clear communication, persuasive communication, and multisensory communication. The person can see what you see, hear what you hear, and feel what you feel.

As you’re taking that negative emotion out, you use the phrase, “so that we can, because, and in order.” Can you give us a little bit more on those particular frames there? I found that interesting.

This is where we go from the person understanding what it is that you want to understand how you getting what you want gets them what they want, because we’re defining persuasion as getting the other person to want to do what you want them to do. How can you do that? Reciprocity. It’s one of the great principles of persuasion and practice. The business has reciprocity and a contract is reciprocity.

“I get this. You get that.” We can do so in communication to reinforce that reciprocity, to make it clear, so it’s not a win-lose, “You get this so I don’t fire you. I get this from you, so I don’t fire you.” Fear of loss is defensive. That’s a great way to get people looking for another job, looking for a way out, finding a way how they can manipulate you, get around you, put in as little work as possible to not get fired because they don’t trust you. We want the trust. We want to be liked, trusted, and respected as communicators, construction people, and leaders in any industry.

Let’s say I’m a construction CEO and I’ve just bought into the company. It’s the time of year where perhaps I’m hiring college grads. Maybe I’ve hired someone who has a Construction Management degree, but they definitely don’t have an English Literature degree or an English Writing degree. What would be the first step that I could take to help them to be effective communicators in writing? How can I get them on that path?

The very best is one that I am self-interested in. I have several writing courses that have precisely 2,475 students. The most popular one is called The Best Way To Say It. It’s how to communicate anything effectively from a blog article up to a full-length nonfiction book. The point is how to take the ideas, directions, instructions, commands, needs, and everything that you need to put in other people’s heads so that they want to do what you want them to do, and how to write that from scratch? Students regularly say, “It is the first and the only program that worked.” This is a surprise to me. I was expecting that it was going to be executives and leaders who were going to say, “This is going to help me with my communication.”

The point of persuasive communication is not making other people feel like you're coming at them with a spear. Share on X

Those people who take the course, they spend an hour and say, “I’m just going to hire Josh. He would write for me.” “What do you teach in the course, Josh? Do this for us.” The type of person that benefits the most is an 8:00 to 5:00 or 9:00 to 5:00 employee to better communicate in their job with their coworkers, with management and increase their promotability because they’re trusted communicators. This person can get the job done because they can describe the job best to everyone else.

Let’s say I’m under pressure to respond to an email in a timeframe. I don’t want to do the blast. I want to make sure I’m clearly communicating. Can you describe step-by-step how someone should begin to write that email so that they can be relatively efficient about it and don’t have to agonize over it for hours or days?

The very first thing, and this is the first step and the best way to say is process. If you’ve got a communication to write, it needs to be written immediately. Use an adverb that’s actually accurate, You immediately need to send the reply to this. If it’s 4:55 Eastern time, and they’re in Central, that means they’ve got an hour and five minutes to read it before in the business. You better write that thing fast. Here’s what you do. What I recommend, because I did this myself, is I open the email to reply and X out the recipient’s name.

Remove the recipient’s name from it real quick and accidentally hit send. You want to simulate the writing experience where you’re going to be sending the email, but you don’t want to accidentally send the email. That’s a no-go. Open up the email, X out the person’s name that you need to reply to, and you can add them back in at the end. Your first draft is vent. I call it the brain dump. Dump your thoughts that you need to get across, everything, even the emotions, negativity, the rage, three exclamation points, all caps. Put it in there. That’s the very first thing, the brain dump. That’s the first step.

Now you’ve got it all in there, and maybe it’s two paragraphs of ranting, you’re not sending that. Before, you might’ve sent it like that. Maybe follow a little spell check before sending. It’s anti-persuasive. We’re going to take a couple of minutes, no more than five minutes, for the following steps. Maybe it takes five minutes longer, but if you get what you want and it saves the project, that’s five minutes. That is immensely worth it. After the brain dump, you then restructure. Meaning you look at what you’ve brain dumped. You ask yourself, are you saying the right thing in the right order? What is the first and most important thing that the recipient sees, knowing that you want what you want them to do inside their head and you want them internally motivated to do it?

Not because they’re afraid of punishment or consequences or loss, because now they’re on the defensive, they’re saying, “How can I put on my shield and get a counterattack on this person?” We don’t want them in counterattack mode. We want them in open mode. What are the things that you need to know in order for you to know them? As you put it in order, you will find phrases that have all caps. You’ll find a sentence that ends with three exclamation points. Delete it. Get rid of it. If it’s not part of the order that they need to know and the order they need to know it, just remove it. The second stage is to restructure.

COGE 184 | Persuasive Writing
Persuasive Writing: It’s the elimination of anti-persuasion that puts people on the defensive. Replace it with clear, persuasive, and multisensory communication so other people can see, hear, and feel what you want.

 

The third step is very simple, refine. This is where you ask yourself two questions. Now that you’ve got everything you want to tell them in that email, you put it in the order that it should probably go. Anything that’s obviously escalatory, you delete it and backspace it out of there. You’re going to refine it. You ask yourself, “Am I asking or telling precisely what I want? Can they read this email at a glance and know what to do without replying back? What do you mean by X? Can you clarify Y? What do you mean by Z?”

You’re going to fill in those gaps. You probably realize that there was a little too much emotion and not enough instruction. We talked about sanitizing of emotion and speaking in terms of only the facts, truth, and information. The refine stage is where you’re going to replace those emotions with, “Step 1, do this, please. Step 2, do this, please. Step 3, do this, please.” It’s okay to say please, even if you’re the president and you’re writing to a junior employee earning one 25th-year salary. You are human beings after all. You will both die one day. Ultimately, everyone is equal in that regard. That makes equals of us all.

That is a meta principle of communication. People don’t like to have authority lorded over them. They know what’s coming from the office of the CEO. They’re well aware that you don’t have to say please. Putting little things like that, where you’re giving a command, instruction, detail. When you do use the second person, you, it’s okay to turn it into a question, “I need you to do this. Can you do this in this order by this date and then let this person know that you did, please?” It’s easy.

This is what you’re doing in the refine stage. It’s surprisingly quick. Once you know that this is the three-step process you’re going to follow, brain dump, restructure, and refine, then put the person’s name back in there, and hit send. The first time you do this, it might be a 10-minute email, but taking 10 minutes instead of 30 seconds could save you 10 days and $10 million. It’s worth it to take 10 minutes to do that. You’ll get easier. Eventually, the venting will be inside of your head of what you want to vent where you want to put them on blast.

Instead, you will intuitively sanitize the emotion inside of your head. As you begin writing, you’ll intuitively call the adverbs, the escalatory language, the, “You didn’t do this and you didn’t do that.” That doesn’t matter. Multisensory communication, you don’t want them seeing themselves under attack. You want them seeing themselves as exactly what you want them to do and feeling okay about it. It’s empowering language rather than offending communication.

“I’m attacking you with my spear from across the savannah.” It’s, “let’s collaborate on this. Let’s get us both what we want.” In that refine stage, that dimension, that’s where at the end, you can put in those because, and in order to, and so that. The word benefits them, “Because you’ve got that vacation coming up, and I don’t want you to have to worry about X, Y, and Z while you’re gone.” You could have said, “You’re not able to go on vacation if you don’t go and do this so that you can have a clear mind before you go on vacation.”

COGE 184 | Persuasive Writing
Persuasive Writing: You don’t want other people seeing themselves under attack. You want them to see themselves exactly what you want them to do and feel okay about it.

 

It’s all about, “How does this benefit them?” “You keep your job.” That’s the realm of anti-persuasion. Where there are threats of punishment of loss, that’s the spear coming out the other person. Biochemically, they are unable to be persuaded at that point. Now they were ready for a counterattack. The counterattack might be, “I can’t talk to them about that ever again. I guess I’m going to have to be looking for a new job. Maybe I can find a way out of my employment contract. Maybe I can find a way around this.” Now they’re in defensive mode. The trust is gone in the relationship. As you pointed out with your Construction Genius material, many of the expensive problems in construction are people problems. We resolve people problems by persuasive communication, uplifting, win-win communication with reciprocity as a foundation.

You’ve been super helpful here. I love this brain dump, restructure, refine framework. That’s from your course, The Best Way To Say It. If people want to grab that course and share it with people in their organization, and they want to get to know you a little bit more, how can they do all those things?

I use a simple eLearning platform called Gumroad. It’s the very first course that people would see when they go to JoshuaLisec.Gumroad.com. If anyone’s active on Twitter, they can find me @JoshuaLisec, and the link to the course is my pinned tweet. I call it the best way to say it because, ironically, one of the things I use in my communication principles is using people’s own words right back at them. It’s called mirroring. When you mirror someone, you match them. You can lead them where they want it to go. Using someone’s own language is helpful. In the case of the best way to say it, and I think this is a tip that will also help people build bonds faster, get trust faster in the construction, marketing, and sales context, get to know, like, trust, buy using people’s own language.

I would go straight a white paper or an executive report. My ghostwriting clients would say, “What you wrote for me wasn’t just in my voice. It didn’t just sound like me, which it did, but it was the best way to say it. I heard that exact phrase year after year.” I thought, “The outcome of Joshua’s writing process is that you get the best way to say. That’s the best way to say it.

I appreciate you coming on. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us and for joining us on the show.

It’s been my pleasure. Thank you very much.

Thank you for reading. I know you’re walking away with some great insights on how to be more effective with the written word. You can purchase products from him to help you and the people who report to you to be more effective in their written communication. When you do click on those links, remember that those are affiliate links. What that means is that if you buy something from Josh, I get a kickback, which is sweet. I never do this, but I’m doing it with Joshua because I know that his work is tremendously important and helpful to you and your people so that you can be better with the written word. Check out those links. Let me know if you have any questions about that. Connect with Joshua on Twitter. He hangs out there quite a bit. I know as you get to know him, you will get to appreciate the work that he does with companies all around the world.

 

 

About Joshua Lisec

COGE 184 | Persuasive WritingAuthor Joshua Lisec is an adventure-thriller novelist and author of “The Phoenix Reich,” first installment of the Max Meyers Adventure saga. Joshua’s storytelling takes readers on extraordinary quests into the conspiracies and underworlds that haunt history. Told through the perspectives of relatable characters and interspersed with wit and insight, his epic novels illuminate the forgotten forces that lurk amongst us, forces that can only be confronted by those who struggle to rise from mediocre lives and embrace destinies that are nothing less than terribly wonderful.