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Four Persuasion Styles


Techniques General persuasion > Overall Methods > Four Persuasion Styles

Two dimensions | Four styles | See also


Here are four ways of changing minds, based on how the persuader decides and acts. While individual people may have a preferred style, they may still use any of the four styles, including within the same persuasive situation.

Two dimensions

Deciding: Thinking-feeling

As humans we can think and reason about things, coolly considering the facts and choosing what seems to be the most effective course of action. We may also depend first on emotions, trusting in our gut feel, which, after all, had evolved over thousands of years.

Thinking is a more measured approach and may start before the persuasive interaction and then continue within the interaction, typically when pausing for consideration of information gained. Feeling is often faster and can be reactive. When a thinker has insufficient time for thought or their emotions are aroused, they may switch to using feelings. Feelers may also find a need to think more a situation, especially if things do not happen as they expected.

Thinking or feeling is a recognized style choice in decisions and are one of the four scales in Jungian Type Inventories such as Myers-Briggs.

You can determine your preferred decision method using the table below. This is not a definitive set of questions, but should help you identify your style balance:

Thinking Feeling
I prefer things that make sense. I prefer things that feel right.
I like to think things through. I like to go with the flow.
I need time to think about what's best. I use gut-feel to know what's best.
I like to get my facts right. I like to get relationships right.
People are persuaded by reasonable arguments. People are persuaded by appealing to their emotions.
It can be difficult when people get emotional. It can be difficult when people are coldly logical.


Approach: Negative-positive

The approach we take may be negative or positive in style. When persuading, this usually depends on our intent, particularly our concern for others. When concern is positive, we care about the other person and will try to help them, or at least not harm them. When concern is negative, we either do not care about the other person or may actively dislike them, leading to potentially harmful approaches.

Sometimes we have positive concern for the person, yet may still use negative approaches. This may be caused by a lack of skill or a failure of positive attempts that lead to frustrated negativity. Sometimes people who start out with a negative approach can be persuaded to be more positive, especially if the other person is consistently positive.

The approach we use can be influenced by the theory of mind we have about the other person -- in other words what we think they are thinking and particularly their concern about us and their intent towards us. If we think they will use a negative approach then we may pre-empt this with our own negativity. In this way, negative approaches can become a default and sustaining a positive position may require a determined attitude.

You can determine your preferred approach using the table below. This is not a definitive set of questions, but should help you identify your style balance:

Negative Positive
I don't have time to make people happy when persuading them. It is essential when persuading to ensure people act because they really want to.
People are often selfish in their choices. People are often considerate in their choices, especially when they are treated well.
Persuasion means getting what I want. Persuasion means everyone getting as much of what they want as possible.
When people attack, I fight back. When people are negative, I like to find out why.
I don't particularly like other people. I get on well with most people.
I will use any way I can to persuade people. I will only use ethical methods when persuading people.


Four styles

The above decision-action styles can be combined in a 2x2 matrix to give four ways of persuading. While anybody may use a combination of styles, we each will tend towards a comfortable and default home style. Note also that the decision-approach dimensions are variables, for example we might have a predominantly thinking style or use a more central balance of thinking and feeling.


Persuasion Styles Matrix

Decision style
Thinking Feeling








Negative feeling: Aggression

When people care less about the other person and particularly when they feeling angry or in a negative mood, they easily fall into aggressive methods where the basic message is 'Do as I say or I'll harm you.'

Aggression is seldom directly physical and may well suggest psychological or social harm such as exclusion. When successfully applied, it triggers fear, which is intended to lead to backing down and concession.

While aggression can come from a generally unpleasant personality, it is often due to a lack of skill in other methods or a jaded view of life. In such cases, aggression can easily be a defensive response against either perceived or expected aggression. In this way negative arguments can arise even when underlying intent is positive.

Negative thinking: Deception

A more subtle form of negativity is deception, where we may lie and manipulate the other person, for example with faked friendship, clever argument or outright lying. The basic message is 'Believe me (do not challenge me)'.

The intent behind this method is not always a lack of concern. We all lie every day, often to avoid discomfort rather than for direct gain. We also deceive when we are pressed for time or feel other methods may not work.

The perfect deceiver, like the perfect actor, believes their own deception and hence becomes more believable. They may even become a fantasist, living within a constructed world of their own. Deception can also become socialized when others accept the invitation to believe falsehood and join in with aligned untruths, typically that avoid uncomfortable realities. In some ways normal society is just such a shared illusion (though this is not enough for some who pull away to form even more fantastic communities).

Positive feeling: Affection

When we are emotionally driven but largely concerned about the other person or our relationship with them, then we typically use methods based in kindness and affection, such as being friendly and asking nicely. The basic message is 'Help me now, my friend, and I will help you in return some other day.'

Friendly methods require trust and are common in relationships where rules of exchange mean that give and take balance out over time. Even within wider society, civil requests will be agreed to in the assumption that the wider social capital and trust will result in other strangers helping us in times of need.

Affection can be faked and this approach can be deception in disguise. This is typical in sales, where the salesperson acts in a friendly way in order to trigger social responses.

We may be suspicious of affection when we have previously been disappointed or cannot see reason for the friendly approach. We may also reject affection when were have a negative self-image.

Positive thinking: Reason

Perhaps the most difficult approach can be in crafting reasonable arguments where we expect the other person to carefully consider what we say and respond with a counter-arguments that perhaps refute some of our proposals and add further facts or reasoning that lead to different conclusions and eventual agreement. People who use the reasoned approach are often more open to being persuaded, though this must be done with valid reason rather than with other methods described here.

When we consider ourselves to be reasonable and civil, we often prefer this method. However, when we suspect that the other person may be deceptive, using false 'facts' or plausible but fallacious reasoning, then we may defensively resort to negative approaches.

See also

Lying, Preferences, Exchange principle, Deception principle


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