The Art Of Persuasion What It Is And How To Practice It
Updated December 17, 2018
Reviewer Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC
Persuasion is the act of convincing someone to change their beliefs or do something you suggest. Persuasion has often been described as an art, but what exactly is the art of persuasion? Understanding can not only help you learn how to persuade others. It can also make you more aware of the persuasion techniques other are using to change your beliefs or behaviors.
Why Persuasion Is An Art
To see why persuasion is an art, you need to understand a broad definition of art. In a philosophical sense, art can be seen as an activity that:
- Expresses strong emotion
- Is intellectually challenging
- Is complex and coherent
- Conveys complex messages
- Shows an individual point of view
- Is original
- produces an object or performance that requires a high degree of skill
- Belongs to an established artform
- Is the product of an attempt to make art
Not all of these definitions apply to the art of persuasion. After all, people can be very persuasive without expressing any emotion at all, although the opposite is more likely. Also, the art of persuasion isn't necessarily an established art form in the sense that painting or music is. And, you may persuade without attempting to do anything artistic at all.
However, persuasion does have many of the other qualities of art. It's intellectually challenging, complex, can convey complex messages, can show your point of view, and may be quite original.
What Is The Point Of Persuasion?
So, why should you learn how to persuade others? Isn't that a way of manipulating them? The truth is that every successful person has been in a position at one time or another where they had to persuade someone of something. If nothing else, most people need to persuade an employer to hire them before they can even work.
Salespeople persuade people to buy objects or services. Politicians persuade people to vote for and support them. Con artists persuade people to fall for a scam. Yet, persuasion runs through nearly every human endeavor, too. You may persuade your teacher to let you take a makeup test, persuade your girlfriend/boyfriend to marry you or persuade someone to help with your volunteer program. In fact, it's pretty hard to find people getting anything done at all without some form of persuasion.
How To Practice The Art Of Persuasion
Anyone can practice the art of persuasion. Not everyone can do it well, though. Some people seem to have a natural knack for convincing people to see things their way. If you don't come by it naturally, though, it is something you can learn.
Assessing How Easy The Persuasion Will Be
Start by getting a feel for how difficult it will be to win over your audience. Researchers have found several factors that influence how easy someone is to convince.
If you're a member of a group, you're harder to convince on subjects that go against the aims of views of that group. The existence of the group and your loyalty to it tend to strengthen your resolve to stick with their version of the truth.
People with low self-esteem are easier to convince. Perhaps this is because they value the opinions of others more than they do their own.
Inhibition Of Aggression
If you are a person who doesn't like to show aggression, you're more likely to be overtaken by a smooth-talker who knows how to use the art of persuasion. You may feel uncomfortable about it, but since you aren't prone to showing aggression, you don't challenge what the other person is saying.
Research shows that people who tend to be depressed are more easily convinced to take up someone else's views.
Those who consider themselves socially inadequate tend to be more easily persuaded. Even if they're no more socially inept than others, the fact that they see themselves that way leads them to place the burden of conversation on the person they're interacting with. This makes it easier for that person to persuade them without challenge.
Getting The Right Introduction
Going up to a stranger and trying to convince them of something is one of the hardest things you'll ever do. That's why so many salespeople hate cold-calling. You don't know what's important to them, their preferences, or whether they belong to any groups that disagree with you. Just as important, they don't know you.
If you can get an introduction from someone they know, you have a better chance of persuading them to adopt your point of view. If you can't get an introduction, you need to do some prep work before you try to persuade them of anything. That's where good listening skills come into the picture.
The Value Of Listening
By listening first, you gather the information you need to compose a personalized pitch that will make sense to the person you're trying to persuade. Savvy political candidates don't just show up at your door and start lecturing you. Instead, they typically ask some questions about your views to find a starting point for their persuasion.
In addition to the information you gain from listening, you create the impression that you value them and respect their beliefs. They're more likely to form a favorable opinion of you and listen to you in turn.
Being Agreeable When You Don't Agree
It's important to agree with the person you're trying to persuade as often as possible. This again shows your respect for them. Everyone wants to be thought of as intelligent, so if you go in refuting everything they say, they're bound to ignore you.
You can't always agree with someone, of course. If you did, you wouldn't be able to convince them to change their position. What you can do, though, is to have an agreeable attitude that acknowledges their reasoning behind the choices they've made.
Subtlety Is Crucial
If you can say exactly what you want someone to believe and they immediately believe it, there isn't much persuasion involved. Most often, you need to show them in subtle ways why your viewpoint is best. There are many different persuasion techniques to use. What the most effective techniques have in common is that they aren't blatant or obvious. Instead, they're built on drawing comparisons, storytelling, and meeting the other person where they are.
Patience And Persuasion
The art of persuasion typically requires some patience and commitment to the process. Again, if you could simply say, "Believe me!" and they would quickly put aside their own beliefs and follow yours, there wouldn't be much persuasion involved.
To change someone's mind, you need to take the time to develop your arguments and explain your rationale subtly and consistently. If it's a simple message, it might not take long to deliver it. But, if you want to convince them of something more complex, you need to be patient with them and keep them with you all along the way.
Whose Conclusion Matters?
When you draw your argument to a close, you may present your conclusion as the obvious one. However, people are more easily persuaded if they believe they're coming to their conclusion on the subject. They want to believe that it's their idea to make the change in viewpoint, belief, or actions. The good news is if you've presented the argument in a way that makes sense to them, they'll think it was their idea. Thus, they're more likely to continue to hold that opinion and act on it.
There are a few ethical dilemmas to consider if you decide you're going to practice the art of persuasion. Too many people have used persuasion techniques maliciously to harm or take advantage of others. Before you try to convince someone to agree with you, think about what the impact on them will be if you succeed.
Undue Influence Issues
Undue influence is a legal term that means you persuade someone to act contrary to their own free will or without attention to the consequences. This often becomes an issue when someone is incapacitated in some way and unable to make their own decisions.
Undue influence might show up as a caregiver convincing an older adult to change their will and leave everything to the caregiver, for example. If you're considering practicing the art of persuasion, it's not only a moral imperative to avoid undue influence. It also may keep you out of legal trouble.
Whether you're in court or making a post on social media, there's something very unfair about presenting falsified statements, documents, or images to prove your point. If you want to be responsible and considerate in your practice of persuasion, you need to make sure that the evidence or supporting information you're presenting is true.
People who use their gifts of persuasion to scam others probably wouldn't care whether what they're doing is hurting others or not. Yet, often, people they convince to go on to convince other people without understanding that they've been conned. To avoid perpetuating the scams of others, it's always important to get your facts straight and be alert to the possibility of deception.
So, Is the Art of Persuasion Good Or Bad?
Like any other art, the art of persuasion is neither positive nor negative in itself. It's only your goals and the way you use it that determines whether you're contributing something worthwhile to the world or not.
Having little ability to persuade others can be a great handicap in life. You might have trouble getting a job, buying a home, or taking the next step in your relationship. Fortunately, you can learn to have greater self-confidence, which gives you more power to present your views as viable options. You can also learn to think more clearly and logically, which can add considerably to your ability to persuade.
On the other hand, you may find that you're too easily convinced and fall for every scam presented to you. If so, there are several ways to decrease your susceptibility to falling for every slick come-on. A therapist can help you build your self-esteem, improve your social skills, or learn to manage your depression. These factors alone will make you less vulnerable.
You can talk to a licensed counselor at BetterHelp.com for these and other mental health issues. Online therapy is affordable, convenient, private, and suited to help you uncover your hidden strength. Whether you need to learn to be more persuasive or to scrutinize the persuasion tactics of others, therapy can make a major impact. You can learn about both sides of the art of persuasion well enough to get what you want more easily and protect yourself at the same time.