Persuasion and winning cooperation.

 Attempts to persuade are all around us. The kids want to go out to eat. Politicians and religious folks want us to see things their way. Sales people and advertisers bombard us. Teachers tell us how important their subject is. Our lover wants us to go to bed. And, we are also trying to persuade others. One of the best selling self-help books of all time is Dale Carnegie's (1936) How to Win Friends and Influence People. Indeed, we have a right and an obligation to influence the decisions that affect our lives. Almost everything we do is designed to give others a certain impression about us. It is to our advantage to be as persuasive as possible. Below are some suggestions.


 As we learned in the section on decision-making, it is essential that every person express his/her views, otherwise the group is not making as good decisions as possible. As we learned in assertiveness training, we must stand up and argue for our own rights. We must communicate at work, in school, at home, in all our relationships.


STEP ONE: Try to be right and try to be liked.

 The best way to win an argument is to be right. In short, know what you are talking about. Therefore, careful investigation of the facts is important. This also implies that you should tell the truth. You will be more confident and more persuasive if you have more knowledge...and are honest.

 People will do more for you if they like you. Dale Carnegie (1936) recommended smiling, using the person's name, listening well, talking about the other person's interests and making him/her feel important. Research (Kleinke, 1986) has confirmed some of these ideas. Remember what was said earlier about listening, empathy and self-disclosure; they generate positive feelings. Doing favors, giving compliments and praise, and agreeing with people also help others like us. One has to be careful, however, to be genuine. If you seem phony or look like you are trying to manipulate someone, most of these methods will backfire on you. For instance, doing favors and using a person's name excessively turn people off if you appear to be exploiting them. Also, research has shown that compliments based on facts, such as specific accomplishments ("I know how tough it is to get into the University of Chicago MBA Program; I really congratulate you"), are seen as more genuine and are more effective than compliments based on assumed abilities ("I just know you must be real smart"). Likewise, compliments based on your feelings ("I love the way you dance") are more effective than positive evaluations ("You are a good dancer"). Obvious flattery doesn't work. We don't like to be conned.

STEP TWO: Consider the circumstances and the listener's needs before planning your approach. Know your audience.

 Study the circumstances and the kind of people you are trying to persuade before stating your arguments. Be sure you understand the other person's motives and interests. Obviously, your reasons for a proposal must emphasize how the other person's needs will be met. An example is President Reagan's speeches. Ronald Reagan used "freedom" and "liberty" 20 times more often than he used "equality" or "equal rights" (Ball-Rokeach, Rokeach, & Grube, 1984). Reagan didn't have to say (or even be aware) that he was against equal rights for women or blacks; he just needed to say he was for free enterprise, freedom, and reduced governmental intervention which favors the already powerful. People get this message without Reagan ever putting down women or minorities. Even presidents play to the people's needs; he says what people want to hear.

 Find out how well informed the listeners are. If the audience is not well informed or already agrees with you, your message can be simple and one-sided. If the audience is not involved, it will take someone with some status and expertise to arouse and influence them. If the audience is well informed and/or opposed to your views, you need a two-sided message that clearly states the opposing viewpoints and refutes them. An involved audience listens to the quality of your arguments and isn't very swayed by the prestige of the speaker. An intelligent listener is turned off by an over-simplified message.

 Also, be sure you understand your goals, e.g. do you hope to merely implant an idea, to make a good impression on others, to "shake up" others' thinking, or to totally convince others? You aren't likely to get there if you don't know where you are going.

STEP THREE: Find the key decision-makers or change agents and work on them.

 Sociologists have found that many communities or organizations have key individuals who spearhead any change. These change agents are often not the official leaders or administrators; they are usually progressive, respected group members. For example, doctors may only change their medical practices after a highly regarded colleague has tried a new method and recommended it to them. So, it may be much more efficient for you to seek out the "pace setters" and influence them, rather than trying to persuade the whole group or individuals who are not change agents.

STEP FOUR: Increase your credibility. Never be caught in a lie or, better yet, never lie.

 A respected, apparently knowledgeable, hard-working, trustworthy, attractive, successful, and fluent person will be more persuasive than a person with less of these traits. So, let people know how much you have studied this topic. How much have you read? What experts have you consulted? Have others tried your solution and liked it? Have you done or found research that supports your position?

 People doubt your credibility when you argue for a viewpoint or action that is self-serving. Should people believe every salesperson? No. So, if you have no vested interest, let that be known. If you do have a vested interest, admit it but explain (if true) that you are making the argument for other reasons than for personal profit. You can further strengthen your argument if you will reject any possibility of receiving personal gain from the changes you are advocating. Example: If you are arguing for more money for your department or organization, you can promise to not take a salary increase if more money is allocated.

 A speaker who is emotional, has "an axe to grind," or is putting down something unavailable to him/her ("sour grapes") is usually discounted by his/her listeners. Examples: a person who has just been fired bad-mouthing his/her boss, a student who has just failed an exam criticizing an instructor, and an unattractive, single 35-year-old man or woman condemning marriage. Sometimes you can increase your credibility, even in these situations, by first acknowledging that there are some points in favor of the boss or the instructor or marriage before giving your criticism. You seem to be a little more rational and not entirely vindictive.

 Don't sell yourself short if you are not considered an expert. The fact is that non-experts presenting good arguments can have great impact (almost as much as an expert) if the listeners are interested and involved. Get them involved.

STEP FIVE: Emphasize your similarity to the listeners.

 People trust you more if you seem similar to them. If you share backgrounds, life experiences, values, or especially future goals, people accept what you say with fewer reservations. Suppose Jesse Jackson and George Bush advocated the same policy. People would respond to it very differently, depending on how closely they identified with the speaker. So, be sure you indicate to your listeners that you are like them and agree with them in many ways (if you do).

 If you already have high credibility with your audience, you can have maximum impact if you present a view that is quite different from the listener's opinion. On the other hand, if you have less credibility, then you will be most effective if your views differ only moderately from the listener's beliefs (Michener, DeLamater & Schwartz, 1986).

STEP SIX: Make an emotional appeal as well as a logical one but don't over do it.

 Prepare well when you decide to persuade someone. Follow all the steps above. Spell out all the reasons for your position. Indicate why your proposal is the wisest and most moral solution. Vividly describe the satisfactions that will result from carrying out your proposal. Point out the dangers and folly of doing otherwise (it has been shown that scary messages are effective if doing nothing will lead to serious consequences and if another practical course of action is available). Example: the fears of cancer and heart disease have reduced cigarette smoking.

 On the other hand, getting into a heated, emotional argument is seldom persuasive. No one wins when the verbal fight gets nasty. Likewise, an emotional tirade, even though others listen attentively, almost never persuades anyone. When someone is highly emotional, we tend to assume that he/she is biased and unable to see the whole situation clearly. So, use powerful emotional appeals, e.g. 42,000 children die every day from preventable diseases or 500,000 teenagers attempted suicide last year, but don't scream nasty names at people because they haven't been acting promptly to correct these problems.

STEP SEVEN: Listen to opposing views. Prepare the audience to argue against the opposing views.

 Give all your reasons (rational and emotional) at one time, but let the listeners raise questions and objections at any time. Listen patiently and carefully; respond with relevant facts. After giving your arguments, it is a good strategy to give the listener a preview of the opposing argument and the reasons why that view is wrong. This is "immunization against counter-arguments."

STEP EIGHT: Leave your opponent a way out.

 Be respectful of the opposing viewpoint and provide them a way to change their views without "eating crow." In some cases, you can argue that the opponents would be better off adopting your views. Try to make those predictions come true, if the listener accepts your arguments. If you need to persuade only one person, make every effort to talk to them alone. Observers tend to see yielders as less intelligent, so it is easier to "change a person's mind" when you interact with them in private.

STEP NINE: End the discussion with some agreement. If nothing else, suggest a test of the different views.

 Ideally, everyone will agree with your arguments and be ready to join you in some constructive action. If no agreement is reached, however, suggest that the validity of both views be researched. This might be the best possible outcome. Finding the truth is more important than winning an argument.

Time involved

 As with so many other skills, you could invest a great deal of time in perfecting a persuasive speech. You have to decide how much time it is worth.

Common problems

 Getting overly involved in selling ideas, losing objectivity and, thus, losing credibility.

Effectiveness, advantages and dangers

 The suggestions and observations above are based on extensive research (see any Social Psychology text). There has never been an evaluation of all the steps put together. It should be helpful to use just a few of the steps. There are no known dangers.

Recommended reading (in addition to the references)


 References cited in this chapter are listed in the Bibliography (see link on the book title page). Please note that references are on pages according to the first letter of the senior author's last name (see alphabetical links at the bottom of the main Bibliography page).

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