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About Persuasion


Techniques Persuasion >

What is it? | It's human | It's easy and difficult | It's unconscious and conscious | It's good and bad | It's interesting and fun! | See also


Persuasion is a central factor in our lives, whether we recognize it or not. It hence makes sense to at least try to understand how it works and to make sense of our own involvement in persuading.

What is it?

Persuasion is, at its simplest, getting another person to change at least one of:

It's human

Sometimes it seems persuasion is some amazing skill that some people have, yet most of us do not. This is nonsense. We are persuasion 'machines'. We grow up influencing others, going from a wailing baby to a stimulating friend, a romantic Lothlario, a guiding parent or a controlling manager.

To persuade is human. In fact one of the defining attributes of humanity, as compared with other animals, is the subtly and complexity of our ability to influence others. Other animals are social, yet we have taken it to a far higher art. Maybe it's language and the infinite subdivisions of meaning we can convey. Perhaps it is in the primacy of our social existence and the importance of living together and climbing up hierarchies of power. It may well also be related to our remarkable ability to deceive that is only matched by our concern for fairness and trust. Or maybe it is all of them and more.

To be human is to communicate with others. It is to want to achieve lofty and personal goals. And this needs the ability change minds, to influence and persuade.

It's easy and difficult

To change the minds of other people is easy. You don't even have to speak. Just offer them your hand. If they take it, you have influenced them. When they are walking, block their path. If they ask you to move or even if they walk around you, you have made them think, with you in the equation. Yes, they may not be too pleased, but persuasion does not have to make people happy (though this often helps).

Persuasion gets difficult when people disagree and actively block your attempts to persuade. They may even do a reversal, trying to persuade you of their view instead. This is where skill comes in. To go from a 'natural' persuade to an expert one takes time and effort, just like learning any other skill. And this website seeks to help you get to where you want to be in this.

It's unconscious and conscious

Sometimes we persuade unconsciously. We do not have too think much to ask someone to pass the salt. Even when we tell our partners to do the washing or employees to write some software, we may well not be thinking too much about how we should persuade. Our unconscious minds, in effect, do a lot of the work for us. On the other hand, sales people, negotiators and many other professionals think a great deal about how to change the minds of other people. Even we amateurs think more carefully when we really want something or have been refused a simple request.

Being persuaded can also be unconscious or conscious, and there are persuasive methods that aim at either side of the fence. For example when magicians provide deliberate distractions for the conscious mind while they perform their amazing tricks elsewhere. On the other hand, classical argumentation asks the listener to agree with finely reasoned logic.

It's good and bad

Yes, that question. Ethics, morals, or whatever you want to call it. Is it good or bad to persuade? The answer is yes and no. Sometimes it's good and sometimes it's bad.

Maybe we should first decide what good and bad is. By and large, we define good as being kind, considerate and helping others. Being heroically good typically involves self-sacrifice. On the other hand, bad usually means doing things that hurt others in some way, often in order to get something we want ourselves. Being evil means taking pleasure in hurting others. You can do all these in persuasion. In between is neither or at least a fairly neutral gray zone. We do things for our own purpose, perhaps persuading others along the way, but without any significant help or harm. We often live largely in this zone, doing things we know are socially acceptable even as we influence those around us.

Values are the basic rules for living that we either choose for ourselves or accept from others as a condition of being accepted into a group or society. Following values is good and breaking them is bad. Trust is a critical question here. If we are going to live with others, we need to trust one another. Values can get in the way of some persuasive methods, but they do not stop us persuading. In effect, they provide fences, corralling our persuasive efforts, keep us away from harming others (at least in any serious way).

A critical concept here is social capital, which is like money. When we help others we gain social capital. When we get things from them, even if they are relatively harmless, we spend our social capital. And when we are bad, we may be fined a large amount. We all have an idea of the social capital owned by the people around us. We trust those with higher social capital and are less persuaded by those with less.

A simple way to understand persuasive morality is simply to ask why. What is the intent of the persuader. Is this legitimate? Does it help or harm or neither? Be honest about this and you will find a very helpful guiding principle.

It's interesting and fun!

Above all, persuasion and influence are interesting, stimulating and can also be fun. To consciously persuade requires you to think deliberately about what you are trying to achieve and how you can do this. There are many, many methods and techniques in this website that you can use.

And when you find you can persuade others, it can be exciting and fun as you nudge them in an appropriate direction. This is why people choose jobs like sales, marketing, leadership, negotiation and so on.

Of course, you also need to be careful about working within social values. If the other person feels manipulated it can be the opposite of fun when you feel the effects of betrayal.

See also

Values, Trust


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