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Four Persuasion Styles

 

Techniques General persuasion > Articles on persuasion > Four Persuasion Styles

Concern | Power | The Concern-Power Model | See also

 

Here is a useful model of persuasion methods that highlights four ways to change minds, based on two dimensions that create a 2x2 grid.

In practice most people will use most styles, depending on the circumstance. Yet most people will also have a preferred style that they will use whenever they can. In fact they may well use this when other styles would be more effective, which can both explain problems they have in persuading and also offer them hope for greater effectiveness.

Concern

A basic question for and about each of us is: Who do you really care about? Some people think more about themselves and base their decisions accordingly, while others are more altruistic in nature. This concern may be driven by our beliefs about the concern of others along with social and personal values.

Concern for self

Where my concerns are first for myself, I will see others more as a means to this end. Where it makes sense I will collaborate, though I will still put myself first. If I can get away with it, then I will be less concerned about others and may even coerce them in some way.

Many of us will recognize ourselves in such a description, although we may also go into denial about it. It is, however, natural and normal to have some degree of self interest. It only becomes a problem when others consider this to be excessive and perhaps antisocial, and react against us for this infraction.

Concern for others

While self-interest seldom disappears, we may also care about others, acting in ways to help them (or at least to not harm them). As concern for others increases there is a point at which this becomes a defining aspect of one's personality.

Where there is more interest in oneself, concern for others may still be displayed. In such situations, self-concern may be the driver where the greater motivation is concern for the relationship or fear of reprisals should social norms be broken. Paradoxically, to be consistent with this outer concern we may convince ourselves we really do care for others. A good test of concern for others is in a crisis, where self-preservation may come to the fore.

It is possible to have too much concern for others. If you always put others before ourselves, then you may suffer as a result (for example giving all your money to charity). You can also annoy others if you are so helpful they become uncomfortable with the weight of reciprocal obligation. Note that in this Persuasion Styles model, a high level of concern is assumed to be still within the socially acceptable range.

Power

The relative power that people have can change how they act to persuade one another.

Higher

When I have greater power than the other person, then I have a greater choice in how I can get them to do what I want. Even if I act in friendly ways, the ability to coerce is always there and can easily affect the way they respond.

Power can be used directly, even physically, such as when a parent restrains a child. It can also be used in subtle ways, with hints of potential action in words such as 'I don't want to...' or 'It would be a shame if...'. We are programmed to seek out threats and such suggestions will ring loud alarm bells in most people's minds.

Lower

People with lower power can find persuasion more difficult, yet few have no power at all. They hence are limited in their choice of approaches rather than having no choice.

The methods used by people with lower power tend necessarily to be more subtle and indirect. Where the higher power person can tell, the lower power person must sell. As in warfare, it is futile to directly attack a larger force, and alternative (even deceptive) tactics may be needed. Persuading with lower power often needs courage as the risk of reprisals may be higher, especially if a deception is discovered.

Paradoxically, sustained practice in such methods, which people with lower power naturally get, can increase their power, as can their need to study persuasive methods. This can lead to a reversal where the lower power person successfully persuades more often.

The Concern-Power model

The way people persuade tends to fall into one of four styles, depending on their concern for others and their relative power. In practice, this means we vary our style as our power changes and with our relationship with the other person. However we will still tend to prefer one style and will navigate situations to create the appropriate environment. Our preferred style may be one which aligns best with our other personality characteristics. It may also be that where we are most skilled.

If you can understand these, you can use this model to predict their actions and so increase your power and ability to respond.

 

Concern-Power
Persuasion Style

Locus of Concern
 

Higher Concern for Oneself

Higher Concern for the Other Person

Relative Power

Higher Power than the Other Person
Lower Power than the Other Person
 

Coercive

 

Collegial
 

Deceptive

 

Influential

 

 

Coercive: Higher power, low concern

Where the person has higher power and has little concern for the other person, they are likely to use their power more directly, typically telling the person what to do. Even if they appear friendly, the threat of coercion is always clear in the 'iron fist in a velvet glove' method. Powerful people may hence be less trustworthy.

These actions may be moderated if the persuader is concerned about additional people who could act to defend the lower power person or otherwise take revenge for perceived unfair use of power. Concern about such response by others will decrease if the higher power person is able to ignore or punish attempted reprisals.

Managers have vested power that lets them act in this way, which is perhaps why the most common reason why leaving people a company is dislike of their manager. Military officers have even greater power as their soldiers are unable to simply resign. Family members can also use coercive approaches as other people in the family cannot leave.

Deceptive: Lower power, low concern

When the person has lower power, their options are also reduced. However, if they are not that concerned for the welfare of the other person, then they can resort to subtle and deceptive methods that lead to significant benefits for them (or at least minimized harm).

We are sometimes called 'the mendacious ape', as deception comes naturally to us. Children quickly learn to deceive and may develop these skills in adulthood, especially where mistreatment makes them wary of others and naturally more concerned about their own safety. Sales people and those with a short-term need to persuade those who can easily walk away (a high power action) may also use deception.

Sometimes, higher-power people are deceptive. This may be because they perceive troublesome power in the other people, even if it is just to cause delay by questioning the suggestion. This is perhaps why parents and managers often cloak their requests with false reasons.

Influential: Lower power, high concern

A person who has lower power but genuine concern for the other person cannot easily justify deceptive methods so they have to use more rational persuasion, influencing the other person with truth and reason.

The influential approach is the most skilful as if offers fewer options. Coercion and deception are largely disallowed, although some may be used if the result is that the other person is not harmed or may ultimately benefit.

Many arguments by loyal employees in companies are like this as they carefully justify their requests for support and resources. In the way of a commoner addressing a king, affection may play its part as the power of human bonding is tapped for its reciprocal benefits.

Collegial: Higher power, high concern

When you have higher power, then you can be more coercive, yet not everyone acts this way. If you like or care about the other person then you will want to persuade them in a way that does no harm and perhaps even benefits them. In such situations, a more collegial, friendly approach can be most suitable.

As with arguments between friends, the collegial method is often honest, though moderated in a way that uses words to convey concern as well as reason. When talking with a lower power person, the higher power person thus seeks to send a message that they are not a threat and have the lower power person's best interests at heart.

Parents may act this way with children, especially where the child may rebel if more direct methods are used (as teenagers commonly do). Leaders may also act in a collegial way as they seek to rally followers to their cause.

See also

Care-Behavior Matrix, Power, Powerful people, Values

 

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