How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
Competitive or Collaborative Persuasion: A Critical Decision
A critical choice when deciding what approach to use in a persuasive situation is whether to use a competitive or collaborative approach. In other words, will you be kind or commanding?
One way to approach persuasion is as a 'zero sum' game, where one person gains solely at the expense of the other in a win-lose frame.
Competitive approaches may be moral, amoral or immoral. A moral approach avoid deception and harm. An amoral approach simply ignores concerns about morality. An immoral approach deliberately uses deception and harm as tools (such as in blackmail).
A competitive approach is common if (a) the relationship is unimportant (such as when you are unlikely to have to persuade the person again), or (b) they cannot take revenge such as if you have sufficiently greater power.
Not all persuasions are competitive win-lose, taking a more collaborate win-win approach. The relationship is important here as trust is needed for information to be accepted as true. This also means morality needs to be reasonably high while accepting that each person may legitimately have different needs.
A collaborative approach is common if (a) you have strong morals about not deceiving or harming others, or (b) a continuing good relationship is essential, or (c) they have higher power, such as being able to refuse or can take revenge for any perceived wrongdoing.
A sales person uses a moderate morality, competitive approach, not telling outright lies but still emphasizing benefits and avoiding talk about problems with what he is selling. His goals are to both make the sale and also avoid the customer returning the product later.
A teacher avoids the strict, dominative-competitive approach and seeks to work with students and their current perceptions. She challenges them to criticize concepts and methods but does not accept competitive rejection or deceptive responses. This is hard work but leads to more engaged students who enjoy the subject as well as doing the required work.
Competitive or collaborative approaches are often driven by the beliefs of the persuader more than the realities of the situation. A person brought up in a tough, dog-eat-dog environment may easily believe that you have to do others down in order to get what you want. In such situations, power is about status, domination and subjugation.
Competition may also be a natural result of the situation, such as when there are limited resources which can only be accessed by those who have sufficient money or other valuable goods which can be traded for the desirable resource.
Collaborative approaches may be based on personal history such as a nurturing upbringing where trust is naturally high and relationships are mutually supportive. It is based on respect and evident kindness and may well use listening and asking more than abrupt telling. A collaborative persuasion may take more time but often reduces the chance of refusal, conflict or vengeance.
In authoritative situations, such as management, policing or parenting, a common style is to act collaborative but expect a competitive outcome. In other words, ask nicely but expect compliance.
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