Persuasion Essay

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Persuasion, by definition, involves changing the opinion  of another  person. However, the process is significantly more complicated than mere manipulation. Effective persuasion involves a thorough understanding  of the other  person’s interests  and needs, detailed  preparation and  planning,  and  a carefully structured communication strategy. There are also several psychological  triggers  that  can  be  applied throughout the process.

The art of persuasion has become extremely important  in the  business  environment today because  of two key factors. First, the globalization of industries has rendered traditional hierarchies obsolete. Second, the changing attitude  of employees and the increasing reliance on electronic communication means that ideas move quickly throughout an organization. These two factors mean that employees are equally invested in the “why” of their actions and the “what.” For managers to create a sense of intrinsic motivation  within the company, they must be able to lead through  persuasion and not simply dictation.

Persuasion is often confused with sales and negotiations, when, in reality, it is a much broader  form of communication and interaction.  Conventional wisdom assumes that successful persuasion consists of one person  trying to convince the other  that  his or her viewpoint is more  rational.  The crux of the debate is centered  solely on the validity of each participant’s opinion,  with little focus on relationship building.

The danger of this approach  is twofold. First, it is highly ineffective. People find their own perceptions the most convincing and rational and are unlikely to spontaneously  change  their  mind.  As humans,  we have a tendency to accept our view of reality as the only true reality. As such, it is virtually impossible to sway another person using one’s own views. Instead, examining and understanding the other person’s perceptions  is at the core of successful persuasion. Second, this approach  ignores the benefit of shared values. By identifying these shared benefits, a manager can build a highly cohesive consensus—not simply a winning or losing side. This is particularly important in large global corporations today, as warring internal factions can drastically affect efficiency and productivity.


The  initial  stages  of  persuasion  involve discovery, preparation,  and dialogue. This process of learning is slow, but essential. Testing and revising ideas based on  feedback  from  colleagues  allows persuaders  to incorporate  multiple viewpoints into their final strategy. This also helps identify weaknesses and any alternative  positions/solutions  that  need  consideration. On a personal level, listening and learning gives the persuader  a positive image. A good manager appears open-minded and genuinely concerned  about others’ concerns  and beliefs through  this dialogue. Remember, it is crucial not only to understand the views of others, but also to fully understand why they believe the way they do. By doing so, the speaker can align his or her needs with those of the audience. Another important benefit of preparation is the formation  of an early coalition  within  the  company  or audience, helping lend credibility to any future discussions.

Once this initial discovery phase has taken place, the formal planning can begin. Establishing credibility along two aspects is the first challenge. To overcome the  hurdle  of instinctive  trustworthiness,  managers must build credibility in both expertise and relationships. It is not enough to have a thorough understanding of the issue—a person must also be perceived to have strong character and integrity. There are several ways to address gaps in credibility, including working with experts, launching pilot projects, and involving others who already maintain strong relationships with your  target  audience.  The second  step  in planning involves the proper framing of the position. Effective persuaders  must  be able to  describe  their  position in terms  that  identify shared  benefits and highlight the advantages. This does not mean simply trying to convince the audience of the validity of the argument based on its merits  alone. Instead,  a manager  must frame the issue in a way that aligns his or her needs with those of the audience. Effective persuaders  use framing to talk about the audience’s interests and create common ground.

Next, crafting a successful communication strategy requires several structural steps. First and foremost, a speaker must define the desired outcome of the conversation or debate. In other words, they must tell the audience why they should care and why it is important to them. Structuring  this message in a well-organized manner,  and with limited information,  allows the audience  to focus on the crux of the issue. It is also important to tie the information  in to what the audience  already  knows.  By working  with  existing beliefs and level of expertise, the speaker builds on the familiar and links the new information/opinion to the old. Last, persuasion requires more than data. By including vivid evidence—both  anecdotal  and emotional—the speaker can create a powerful psychological connection  and feeling of mutuality. While many managers are afraid of using emotional language, the fact is that audiences absorb and retain information in proportion to its vividness.


Within  this persuasion  process, there  are six established principles that communicators can use to effectively and efficiently shape the behavior of others. The principles include reciprocation,  consistency and commitment, social proof, liking, authority,  and scarcity. These principles  create  a form  of psychological trigger that  greatly increases the compliance or agreement of others. By learning how to use these innate triggers in communication, a person can subtly influence the way another  person  behaves—without outright manipulation  or deception.

A classic academic  example  of these  persuasion principles  is found  in Tupperware  sales parties. All visitors  receive  gifts of some  sort,  triggering  their instinct  to reciprocate  with a purchase of their own. Guests are encouraged  to discuss Tupperware  products they already own and use, which serves to remind them  of their existing psychological commitment to the product,  and thus leads them  to purchase  more in pursuit  of consistency. The group environment is ideal for the social proof principle, which states that people behave in accordance with a group’s perceived acceptance. The informal party atmosphere  makes it easy for the  salesperson  to create  a personal  bond, because people are much more likely to say yes to the requests  of someone  they know and like. The salesperson’s expertise on the product also factors into the sale, as it is human inclination to defer to an authority figure or expert. Most important, visitors leave these events  feeling as if they  have had  some  important individual need met, not as if they were the victims of a manipulative hard sell. While this example takes place in a social setting, these principles can be clearly applied in the business world as well.

The end goal of persuasion  is to create agreement within the audience based on their own beliefs, not based on the beliefs of the speaker. By using the beliefs of the  audience  as leverage, persuasion  becomes  a win-win situation.


  1. Gene Bedell, “Tactical Tips  for Persuading Effectively,” Manage Magazine (v.52/4, 2001);
  2. Robert Cialdini, “The Language of Persuasion,” Harvard Management Update (Harvard Business School Publishing, 2004);
  3. Jay Alden Conger, The Necessary Art of Persuasion (Harvard Business Press, 2008);
  4. James P. T. Fatt, “The Anatomy of Persuasion,” Communication World (v.15/1, 1997);
  5. Amna Kirmani and Rui (Juliet) Zhu, “Vigilant Against Manipulation: The Effect of Regulatory Focus on the Use of Persuasion  Knowledge,” Journal  of Marketing  Research (v.44/4, 2007);
  6. Virginia Percy and Margaret Mullen, “Getting Your Message Across,”  Training  &  Development  (September 1993);
  7. David Stiebel, “Getting Them to See Things Your Way,” Canadian Manager (v.22/4, 1997);
  8. Leigh L. Thompson, The Mind and Heart of the Negotiator (Prentice Hall, 2009);
  9. Mei-Ling Wei, Eileen Fischer, and Kelley J. Main, “An Examination of the  Effects of Activating  Persuasion Knowledge on  Consumer  Response to  Brands Engaging in Covert Marketing,” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing (v.27/1, 2008).

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