Michelle Bowden: 15 tips to stop turning people off

When attempting to persuade others are you turning people off without realising it?

It’s a pretty full-on question, isn’t it? 

The fact is that when it comes to persuasion, there are plenty of things you do to attract people.

Unfortunately, there are also a whole lot of things we do to repel our stakeholders and/or turn them off our big, important ideas.

Most of us are completely unaware of the hundreds of little things we do daily that attract and repel people at different times.

If you’ve ever felt like someone rubbed you up the wrong way, that was you being turned off.

And maybe you’ve been in a situation where you got a ‘vibe’ that the other person just wasn’t that into you.

It happens all the time.

When it happens, most of us don’t take the time to wonder what it is that turned the other person off.

We just get on with our life.

We might even blame them!

Perhaps we tell ourselves, “Well, that person is just silly!” 

This means we are highly likely to do whatever it was that was a turn off again and again, without any awareness, and we prevent ourselves from achieving our potential.

I’ve been teaching persuasion for more than 20 years.

When I’m teaching my persuasive techniques, people often feel very comfortable telling me all about their experiences with people who were a ‘turn off’ during the persuasion process: managers, staff, clients, even external consultants.

The common element in most people’s stories is that they didn’t give any feedback to the person who behaved poorly, which means the person will never know the impact of their behaviour.

It’s my experience that most of us think we are being nice to the persuader by not speaking up or giving feedback about the approach or behaviour that bothered us.

In general, we don’t want to offend the person who turned us off or cause any unnecessary conflict.

If the person who offended us is more senior than we are at work, we don’t want to perform a ‘career-limiting move’ by calling out the behaviour.  

To avoid insulting, disappointing or upsetting people, let’s look at the list of things you shouldn’t do when persuading others.

These are the 15 big mistakes people make when attempting to persuade others:

  1. Pessimism or lack of enthusiasm and passion. People generally need your enthusiasm to feel enrolled in your idea. Get appropriately excited about it, and you’ll be contagious. 
  2. Appearing judgemental or distrustful. No one likes to feel judged. If you are not sure about the person or their idea, try harder to remain more open-minded and find a functional way to investigate further without making it personal.
  3. Too many questions. Who likes having so many questions thrown at them it feels like an interrogation? Don’t over-question your prospect or stakeholder. 
  4. One-sided facts. To ensure people find your message credible, make sure the facts are not one-sided, illogical and that your argument is robust and well-prepared.
  5. Denying, blaming, or justifying poor decisions. Denying, blaming, and justifying are known as victim behaviours. Each of these behaviours is a real turn off to people who prefer that you take personal responsibility for your actions. Acknowledge the role you play in your own life, whether it’s good or bad and own up to mistakes. 
  6. Pushy behaviour. No one likes a pushy salesperson! When it comes to persuading another, be ‘others-focused’ so that you can best judge how strong to be without turning your prospect or stakeholder off.
    Commitment, rigour and passion are all fabulous qualities when used in the correct dose.
  7. Too many stories to make your point. Some people just love the sound of their own voice, and they tell way too many personal stories to make their point. Stories are a wonderful way to make your point because they are interesting and more memorable if told brilliantly. Just be careful not to hog the limelight. 
  8. Appearing desperate. Desperation has a stink about it that is very easily sensed by your prospects and it’s a real turn off. If you are desperate, it implies that you are unsuccessful. It infers that no one else is buying what you’re selling.

    Desperation opens you up to price negotiations that will leave you feeling used and unfulfilled. Do what you can to feel confident in yourself and your idea but don’t beg or plead. 
  9. Forgetting someone’s name or not knowing it in the first place. This is one of my pet hates. I was recently involved in a big project where there were only two women involved and lots of men. The senior executive called one of the women by the other woman’s name. There were only two of them. I suspect he thought they were interchangeable (I know sarcasm is the lowest form of wit!).

    Please care enough about your prospect or stakeholder to know their name and get it right every time. And don’t get it nearly right. I’m often called Melissa when my name is Michelle. To you, they might seem like similar names, but to me, you just got my name wrong. 
  10. Allowing yourself to be distracted by something more ‘interesting’ in conversation. Has this ever happened to you? You’re talking to someone and they look over your shoulder at something and you find yourself turning your head to see what they are looking at. Don’t do this. It makes it seem like you don’t care enough to stay connected to what’s being said. 
  11. Indirect eye contact makes you appear insincere or disinterested. Direct eye contact is essential for rapport. Look right at the person you’re talking to. Don’t over stare. Relax your face. Relax your eyes. If possible, even smile with your eyes.
  12. Overstating the facts. Exaggeration is annoying to some people and funny to others. Choose your moment. 
  13. Needlessly embellishing stories. Some people feel they should ‘never let the truth get in the way of a good story’! Understand that some people love it when they sense you are embellishing your story. Other people will brand you a liar for twisting the truth.
  14. Talking about yourself too much. Only talk about yourself to the extent that it builds rapport and establishes the necessary amount of credibility. Then stop. 
  15. Smooth communication. If you’re too smooth in your communication style when attempting to persuade others, it can seem contrived and may be perceived as insincerity. Aim to be as authentic as possible.

Weirdly, you’ll be your most authentic and persuasive self when you plan your message thoroughly, rehearse until you can’t get it wrong, and then allow yourself to ad-lib and even add some humour on the day. Thorough rehearsal is the key to being perceived as authentic.

So, there you have it. We want people to trust and like us instinctively.

Once you make yourself aware of these mistakes, the next step is to work out how to better manage your approach so that you don’t end up unintentionally turning people off. 

You want to attract, not repel, people.

If you recognise any of these mistakes are things you do, perhaps ask yourself what you can do differently to stop right now.

Pretty much everything you want comes on the other side of persuasion.

Let’s do what we can to ensure you are as effective as possible at persuading in every area of your life.

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Michelle Bowden

Michelle Bowden is Australia's expert on presenting persuasively in business. She's a best-selling, internationally published author of How to Present: the ultimate guide to presenting your ideas and influencing people using techniques that actually work. For more information visit