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Three Types of Persuasion

 

Techniques General persuasion > Articles on persuasion > Three Types of Persuasion

Control | Convince | Convert | Discussion | See also

 

There are three ways to persuade people as you seek to get them to do what you want them to do. These are very different both in method and in the effect they have.

Control

What

Gaining control over a person is like having them as a puppet. Of course it is not that simple but the principle remains that you are seeking to control their actions without worrying too much about what they think.

How

To gain control of another person, so they do what you want even if they do not want to do it, you need power. This can be the power of authority, such as when a manager directs a subordinate. It can also be the power of money or knowing a person's secrets or other levers of direct influence.

Another way is to use persuasive methods that distract the conscious mind while you make suggestions to the unconscious. Conditioning is a further method that focuses on the unconscious mind and can work on humans as well as animals.

Problems

The problem with control is that we are an intelligent species and we do not stop thinking when people are trying to control us. In fact we tend to think even harder as we figure out what is going on and what to do about it.

We have a need for a sense of control and when we realize others are trying to control us we will often become annoyed and resist their efforts, fighting back or taking sly revenge. This makes persuasion by control hazardous and best used only when the other methods are impractical.

Convince

What

Convincing people seeks to gain their agreement, getting them to think about what is being said and concluding that it both makes sense and is the best option for them.

When people agree, they will act in aligned ways that seem sensible. They need less ongoing management and will effort to sustain their agreement.

How

To convince someone, you need to get their attention so they will listen. Then you need to create a convincing argument that presents your case and negates alternative views. You want them to think and agree, typically so they will act on this appreciation into the future rather than just taking immediate action (which is where Control focuses).

To convince, you need to show that your argument makes sense, with appropriate logic and cause-and-effect explanation. An argument also becomes more convincing when the person sees how it affects them personally, impacting their needs and goals.

Gaining conviction often makes significant use of language, and care with words is needed. The ancient Greeks were masters of rhetoric, and their methods can still be seen today in courtrooms and other formal contexts.

While sales people use some tricky methods, they also seek to convince, particularly when dealing with business and other repeat customers who may think later about how they were persuaded.

Problems

Convincing people is much harder work than the simple application of control. You need to think about how other people think and, to some extent, be a psychologist as well as a linguist and logician.

Even though convincing can work well, it may well not be enough. The confounding factor that stymies the logician is emotion. When we are emotional, we think less, and when we are highly emotional we almost completely lose our rationality.

Convert

What

Conversion seeks to change a person's beliefs and values, getting them to truly buy into what is being suggested so they connect emotionally and even change their sense of identity.

How

Conversion often uses more emotion-based methods than the cooler logic of trying to convince people.

The emotional aspect of conversion means it is a more social activity and finding ways of bonding with the target person can be very helpful. Building rapport is a classic way of doing this.

Natural methods such as storytelling seek to get people to connect with idealized characters in the tale. These can be woven into conversation or used as stand-alone teaching tales.

Some cults use aggressive conversion methods such as isolation and breaking sessions to destroy and rebuild the person. Other ways include engagement and striving. While cult methods seem harsh, more civilized versions of their methods may be seen in more traditional religions and businesses.

When a person's beliefs come from another person or source, you may want to undermine the source rather than the belief. Show the source as lacking credibility, with a shaky foundation.

Problems

Converting can be both easier and harder than convincing. People often hold their beliefs and values tightly and do not change easily. On the other hand, we may be converted by emotional appeals that do not need complex reasoning.

To change what a person believes is particularly difficult when they hold strongly to that belief and when it is associated with other beliefs, such that attacking a single belief is to attack the whole system. This is what happens when one aspect of a region is criticized.

Studies of cults have shown that even though they can cause a person to adopt very different beliefs, these effects fade when they leave the sustaining cult environment. What we believe is closely related to what people around us believe.

Discussion

Control is probably the most common persuasive method used (think parents, managers, military), though it is the least effective in changing minds. This is probably because, if you have the power needed, it is quickest and easiest. Convincing and converting require more skill, which relatively few people have.

These are equivalent to another triple: The Three H's, or Head, Hands and Heart. Control directs the hands, getting people to do things without worrying about what they think. Convincing engages the head, asking them to think and agree. Conversion goes for the heart, seeking emotional buy-in.

If you wanted to be cynical, you could call these 'the three cons'. In practice, they are a very real choice and understanding the distinction can be critical.

See also

Power, Conditioning, Authority principle, Distraction principle, Argument

 

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