The Art Of Persuasion: What It Is And How To Practice It
By: Mason Komay
Updated December 02, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: 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 a delicate form of art, but what exactly makes it so powerful? Understanding the art of persuasion can not only help you learn how to influence others; it can also make you more aware of the techniques others might use to try and change your beliefs and behaviors.
Why Persuasion Is An Art
To understand the art of persuasion, you must first understand the broader definition of art. Art is both a process and product 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
Although it is clear how all the features above apply to such art forms as painting and performing music, not all apply to the art of persuasion. Persuasion isn't an art form in the same sense as painting or music, but rather involves the finely tuned creative skills—or art—of language and communication. However, persuasion does include some of the qualities of more traditional art forms. It's intellectually challenging, complex, expressive, and completely authentic to your character.
What Is the Point of Persuasion?
You may wonder why you should bother to learn how to persuade others. You might even consider such an "art" to be diabolical or manipulative. However, the truth is that every successful person has, at one time or another, been in a position where they had to persuade someone of something. For instance, most people have to persuade an employer to hire them before they can even begin to work and earn money.
The art of persuasion runs through many human endeavors. Salespeople persuade people to buy objects or services. Politicians persuade people to support and vote for them. Con artists persuade people to fall for scams and spend money they don't have. You may persuade your teacher to let you take a makeup test, persuade your girlfriend or 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.
So, whether you should learn better persuasion techniques really isn't the question. The question is why you haven't done so already!
Factors to Consider in the Art of Persuasion
Anyone can practice the art of persuasion. However, it takes dedication to learn how to do it effectively. Some people seem to have a knack for convincing people to see things their way. If you're finding it difficult to learn, it's not the end of the world. You can, and will, learn how to master this art. Below are some factors to consider before you try to persuade somebody of something:
- Assess How Easy the Persuasion Will Be. You can begin by getting a feel for how easy or difficult it will be to win over your audience. Researchers have found several factors that influence how challenging it can be to convince someone of something. You just need to follow the proper guidelines and techniques.
- Group Membership. If you're a member of a group, then you're statistically less likely to be convinced of subjects or ideas that go against the views of your fellow group members. The existence of the group and your loyalty to it tend to strengthen your resolve to stick with their version of the truth, even if it's completely inaccurate.
- Low Self-Esteem. People with low self-esteem are statistically far easier to convince than those with higher self-esteem. This is most likely because those with low self-esteem tend to value others' opinions more than their own. The biggest challenge you'll have to face here is determining the self-esteem level of the person you're trying to persuade. You can do this by analyzing factors such as body posture, confidence of tone, and commitment to their point of view.
- Inhibition of Aggression. If you don't like to show aggression, then you're more likely to be overtaken by a smooth talker who is fluent in the art of persuasion. Even if they make you feel uncomfortable about whatever they're trying to convince you of, if you lack aggression, it will make it easier for someone to sway your opinions. People who aren't prone to showing aggression usually don't challenge what another person is saying.
- Depressive Tendencies. Research shows that people who are depressed are more easily convinced to accept someone else's views over their own. This tendency is largely due to factors like lack of aggression and self-esteem, as mentioned above. However, you may find that some people who experience depression are not actually persuaded by you, but simply agree with you to avoid conflict.
- Social Inadequacy. 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.
Now that you know some factors to consider before attempting to persuade someone, let's explore the process of persuasion.
How to Practice Persuasion: A Process
Getting the Right Introduction
It is extremely difficult to convince a stranger of something. For instance, salespeople hate cold calling because they never know what type of person they'll be dealing with on the other end of the phone. They don't know that person’s values or preferences, or whether they belong to a group that is opposed to what or how they’re selling. In fact, the one of the only things they do know is that the person called doesn't know, or trust, the salesperson.
If you can get an introduction from a mutual friend or acquaintance, you have a much better chance of persuading someone to adopt your point of view. If you can't get an introduction, it helps to prepare yourself for anything before you attempt persuasion. This is where excellent listening and communication skills enter the picture.
The Value of Listening
When you listen 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. Pretty neat strategy, right?
In addition to gaining information from listening, you create the impression that you value the other person and respect their beliefs. In turn, they're more likely to form a favorable opinion of you and listen to what you have to say.
Being Agreeable When You Don't Agree
It's important to express agreement with the person you're trying to persuade as often as possible. This indicates that you respect them and are open-minded. Everyone wants to be thought of as intelligent, so if you refute everything someone says, they're likely to dismiss you. Of course, you can't agree with anyone on everything, nor should you. If you did, you wouldn't be able to convince your audience to change their position. What you can do, however, is have an agreeable attitude that acknowledges the reasoning behind what they believe and 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 of a need for persuasion. More commonly, you need to show them in subtle ways why your viewpoint is correct. There are many different persuasion techniques to use, but the most effective are those that aren't blatant or obvious. Instead, they're built on drawing comparisons, storytelling, and recognizing the other person and where they stand.
Persuasion and Morals
The art of persuasion requires patience and commitment to the process. If it were a matter of simply saying "Believe me!" there wouldn't be much persuasion involved. In order 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. But if you want to communicate something more complex, you need to be patient with your audience and keep them engaged.
Whose Conclusion Matters?
When you draw your argument to a close, you may present your conclusion as the obviously correct one. However, people are more easily persuaded if they believe they're reaching their own conclusion. They want to believe that it's their idea to change their viewpoints, beliefs, or actions. The good news is, if you've presented your argument in a way that makes sense to your audience, they'll likely assume that their change in thinking was their own decision. They'll therefore be more likely to continue to hold onto that opinion and, more importantly, act on it.
There are a few ethical dilemmas to consider if you decide you're going to practice the art of persuasion. 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.
Will that person gain or lose? Is it in their best interest to accept what you bring to the table?
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 becomes an issue when someone is incapacitated in some way and unable to make their own decisions. For example, a caregiver might convince an older adult to change their will and leave everything to the caregiver. If you're considering practicing the art of persuasion, it's a moral imperative to avoid undue influence. It will also keep you out of legal trouble.
Whether you're in court or making a post on social media, it's wrong to present falsified statements, documents, or images to prove your point. If you want to be responsible in your practice of persuasion, you need to make sure that the evidence or supporting information you're presenting is, to the best of your knowledge, accurate and legitimate.
People who use their mastery of persuasion to scam others typically don't care whether what they're doing is hurting others. Often, the people they end up convincing then attempt to convince others of the same thing without understanding that they've been conned. To avoid perpetuating others’ scams, it's important to get your facts straight and always stay alert to the possibility of deception.
So Is Persuasion Good or Bad?
Like any other form of art, persuasion is neither positive nor negative in and of itself. It is how you use the art of persuasion, and for what purpose, that determines whether you're contributing something worthwhile to the world.
The inability 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. Or, 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, and even learn to manage your depression. These factors will make you less vulnerable to deception.
You can talk to a licensed counselor at BetterHelp to get the help you need. Online therapy is affordable, convenient, private, and can help you uncover your hidden strengths. Whether you need to learn to be more persuasive or to scrutinize the persuasion tactics of others, therapy can have a major impact. You can learn about both sides of the art of persuasion well enough to both get what you want more easily and protect yourself. You deserve to be happy—let us help.
The Role of Therapy in Increasing Assertiveness
Closely connected to the art of persuasion is assertiveness, or the firm but respectful communication of thoughts, feelings, and needs. Research shows that when we do not assert ourselves, we can experience depression, anxiety, anger, and low self-esteem. But for some people, assertive behavior is extremely difficult.
Assertiveness training is the teaching of open, proactive communication in a therapy setting. The assumption here is that assertiveness is not innate but learned, and practicing skills with a licensed therapist can be a transformative experience.
Moreover, assertiveness training can be an effective treatment for mental health conditions including depression, social anxiety, and problems resulting from unexpressed anger. Assertiveness training can also be useful for those who wish to improve their interpersonal skills and sense of self-respect.
Online Therapy for Assertiveness
As discussed above, therapy with a licensed therapist can help increase assertiveness, an essential ingredient in the art of persuasion. But when you are struggling with symptoms like low self-esteem, face-to-face therapy can be challenging. This is where online therapy comes in. You can access BetterHelp’s platform from the comfort and privacy of your own home. In addition, online therapy offers lower pricing than in-person therapy because online therapists don’t have to pay for costs like renting an office. BetterHelp’s licensed therapists have helped people learn to assert themselves. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp therapists from people experiencing similar issues.
"In the short span of 9 months, Shonnie has become like one of my best friends. At first, I was skeptical of doing therapy since I'm very "psychologically healthy". A few challenges in my personal life led me to try therapy for a month. Now I consider it an important part of my growth as a businessman and leader within my community. Thank you Shonnie for being so helpful during the recent difficulties; I am very lucky to have found you!"
"Tyson really helped me out with my depression by finding out what my goals were in life, especially around my career and family. He left me with techniques and exercises that have really helped me observe negative thoughts and break their cycles. I have actually gone through a true, positive transformation in my life thanks to Tyson. Highly recommend!"
The art of persuasion means mastering communication techniques that can help you better assert yourself in the world. With the tips and guidelines above, you'll be well on your way toward becoming a master of persuasion—and one who is protected from being taken advantage of by other masters. Take the first step today.
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