At home: How to persuade without preaching

Since starting up in Cardiff and meeting lots of people in our fast-growing sustainable living community, it's easy to start thinking that everyone believes in looking after our environment, our wildlife and that caring about these things would be 'obvious.'

Not so! I'll realise this from time to time, when I see people drop litter and vendors hawking cheap plastic items and food in excess plastic packaging. The Ed Sheeran concert in Cardiff was a big example of this after thousands of fans attended night after night. I walked through the crowds one night, rubbish everywhere and seagulls swooping into it. The aftermath was so bad it even appeared in the local news.

So what do you do when you fundamentally disagree with a person's behaviour? Is there a way of changing their mind without being patronising? When it's a stranger, you might well not want to look aggressive. When it's a loved one, no one likes to nag.

While noisy crowds on the street are probably not the place to start, you will have many chances in life to change a person's thinking. Either consciously or unconsciously, what you have said or done in the past will have influenced the people around you.

Our launch event was a case of this. Last week, with the Ed Sheeran crowds gathering outside, I was joined by local entrepreneurs Lisa Valentine and Debbie Rees to tell the story of our creative journeys and why we were passionate about helping people live in a way that's sustainable for the planet. I organised the event to get people inspired for themselves, and thinking about what they could do creatively for a cause that mattered to them. What I didn't imagine were some of the responses!

'I went home that night looking at each and every piece of litter,' said one person later. My own Peruvian father, a serial single-use plastic buyer, walked back with me lamenting, 'I bought a packet of plastic sponges!' Now he's resolved to only buy biodegradable handmade sponges, made in Cardiff by Debbie.

'A drop of honey can catch more flies than a gallon of gall,' says Dale Carnegie, the leadership teacher in his classic book How to Win Friends and Influence People (a must-read for anyone entering working life). And that's what we'd accomplished, Lisa, Debbie and I, just by telling our stories and inviting people to relax for an evening, enjoy some cupcakes and think over a theme.

Probably the best opportunity you'll ever have to win someone over are the moments when you have their ear. Start with your family, your friends and work up to an audience, a local business... then to a big brand. Morrison's decision to stop packaging their fruit and veg in plastic wasn't purely out of the goodness of their hearts. It was a sensible reaction to the demands of their customers - people like us.

Personally, challenging the actions of someone, for example a vendor giving out plastic coffee cups, can make me uncomfortable. Since starting Authentic House though, I've realised I need to start challenging back and doing this. After all, when more of us start holding the businesses and individuals around us to account, that's when change will happen. Look at the fate of smoking indoors, as Stylist Magazine asks, will single-use plastic soon become just as unacceptable?

Learning to challenge people in the right way is a skill that, like all others, we can cultivate. Life is awash with possibility and truly there are no real rules to how to go about it, but I do like the solidity of Dale Carnegie's advice on how to influence people without arguing.

They're a set of solid steps you can take to get you started - guides to give you the confidence to speak out:


  • Begin in a friendly way

  • Start with points they'll agree on

  • Show respect for the person's opinions

  • Listen more than you speak

  • Appeal to their nobler motives

  • Let them make the idea theirs


  • Tell them they're wrong

An important thing to keep in mind when persuading someone is to give credit to the reality that most people are doing their best to do good in a way that they feel matters. Businesses too are made up of individuals who are just the same. More so for businesses, they care about what matters to their customers. So if you show what matters to you by bringing a keep cup in place of taking a throwaway cup, or asking simply if their plates are recyclable, that's a friendly and curious way to get their minds ticking.

Ask yourself how you came to care about sustainable living. Likely the beliefs were already there, the good intentions too, and yet it was one pivotal moment or conversation that made it click into place.

You can be the first step to influencing a person or business to put an end to wasteful behaviour. Sometimes it won't work, but once or twice that individual may recall your conversation, as I do with the people who inspired me, and feel you started them on their way.

We all have a voice - it's about learning how to use it.

Have a lovely weekend in this sunshine!