Outside Of Straight Line Persuasion: How To Identify Persuasion And Think Critically When Being Persuaded

By BetterHelp Editorial Team|Updated July 11, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC

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“Straight-line persuasion” is perhaps best known as a book by Jordan Belfort. It also refers to a common tactic used among professionals in the sales industry. If you work in sales, advertising, or another similar field, persuasion is probably an important part of your work. It’s likely something that you are fair if not heavily versed in. However, we can all benefit from being savvy regarding persuasion and how it can be used in various contexts. So, what exactly does “persuasion” mean? How do you identify persuasion, and how do you continue thinking critically when attempting to persuade you?

Why Learn About Persuasion?

First, you might wonder, why learn about persuasion if you don’t work in sales?

In the context of buying and selling, many people find themselves spending money that they wouldn’t spend if it weren’t for the persuasion of an advertisement, a salesperson, or a special sale. For example, let’s say that you walk into a store intending to buy one specific T-shirt. Then, you see that you can get 15% off of your purchase if you buy three. You may walk out with three T-shirts, and maybe, it turns out that you don’t like or wear the additional two. If you genuinely want all three and are happy with the purchase, that’s one thing, but if not, you likely just wasted your money.

This is just one minor example. If it’s a one-off thing, it may not be a big deal, but if this happens to you all of the time - or if it happens on a larger scale - you might overspend significantly.

It’s not that you shouldn’t take advantage of a great sale; it’s about using critical thinking skills so that you can stop yourself from spending too much money due to psychological tactics - whether used by an advertiser from a distance or someone you’re speaking with face-to-face - that you might otherwise.

Perhaps even more importantly, persuasion isn’t just used in sales or advertising. It can also be used in the workplace and interpersonal relationships. Although these are very different contexts, similar tactics used to persuade people to buy can get you to do something at work.

What Exactly Is Persuasion?

Before we move forward, let’s first define the meaning of the word “persuasion.”

The Merriam-Webster definition of persuasion is “the act of convincing.” Persuasion isn’t inherently bad. In fact, it is quite important, or even crucial, in some contexts. For example, you may have been taught persuasive writing in school. During a lesson about persuasive writing, you most likely learned how to convince someone through your words. This is something that may very well have carried into your personal or professional life. Maybe, you’re a mental health advocate, and you work to persuade or convince people that they should care about mental health. Or, perhaps you work in environmental science, and part of what you want to do in this world is to convince people of why they should care about the environment. To do this, you probably show statistics and how your initiative would be for the greater good. Both of these are examples of how persuasion can be used positively.

That said, there are different types of persuasion, and just as it can be used for good, there are times when persuasion might cause you not just to overspend but to cross your boundaries or manipulate you in other ways.

Types Of Persuasion

The three main types of persuasion are motivated ethos persuasion, pathos motivated persuasion, and logos motivated persuasion. Ethos motivated persuasion uses the appeal of credibility, morals, and ethics. Logos motivated persuasion uses the appeal of logic. Pathos motivated persuasion uses the appeal of emotion. Most of the time, if someone is trying to persuade you to do something, they will use one of these three things. There are also different tactics a person can use to persuade someone else, most of which fall into one of these broader categories. 


Pathos-Motivated Persuasion

Emotional appeal is a very common persuasion tactic. Have you ever had a boss who said: “we’re a family” in the workplace? With that emotional tie (after all, you want to take care of your family), you might extend yourself past what you’re paid to do. That’s an example of emotional appeal as a persuasion tactic. Other examples might be a sad commercial that prompts you to donate or buy something. Or a boss who makes you nervous or guilty so that you’ll do something. Someone might also use the positive emotional connection in this way, using flattery, compliments, or perceived closeness.

Logos-Motivated Persuasion

Many of us like to think of ourselves as logical people. But, there are times when people can motivate you with logic in a pretty sneaky way. If someone uses logic to persuade you, they may ignore other evidence that would challenge what they are trying to persuade you to believe or do. For example, they may use a little research study to drive the point home even though there is a lot of challenging or opposite research. Someone may also make the option they’re trying to sway you away from appearing illogical or ignorant.

Ethos-Motivated Persuasion

The definition of ethos is “the distinguishing character, sentiment, moral nature, or guiding beliefs of a person, group, or institution.” Think of a time you have seen someone “an expert” persuade you—for example, a doctor in a commercial. Alternatively, think of a time when your morals and ethics have been used to persuade you. Either of these things could be considered ethos-motivated persuasion.

Another type of persuasion we didn’t cover above is kairos, another Greek word that translates to “right moment.” Think of a time you’ve seen a limited-time offer and have sprung to buy something that you wouldn’t have otherwise bought right then. This is an example of kairos-motivated persuasion. Often, people use a combination of different techniques to persuade someone. For example, someone might use both emotion and logic, or they might use emotion, logic, timing, and stance as an authority figure to persuade.

Again, persuasion isn’t always manipulative or bad. That said, there are times when people might use persuasion tactics to manipulate you.

When Is Persuasion A Problem?

Here are some examples of when persuasion, in various contexts, might be a problem:

  • Someone is crossing your boundaries. For example, a friend guilts you into sharing information that you do not want to share.
  • The persuasion of someone else is impacting your mental, financial, or physical health negatively. For example, if someone persuades or guilt trips you into extending yourself too far, and this means that you don’t get enough sleep or don’t have the capacity to take care of yourself in other ways. Or, if a partner persuades you to pay for the bulk of the bills, you share as a couple, and you do not have the money.
  • Suppose you feel like you’re betraying yourself or your ethics and what you feel is right. For example, you cover for a friend who is cheating on their partner.

If these persuasion tactics work on you, it doesn’t mean that anything is wrong with you. Persuasion tactics are largely and generally developed using the knowledge of human psychology, and no one is immune to that. However, understanding persuasion tactics and taking a moment to think critically can be advantageous, and in reading the examples above, you can probably see why.

Therapy Can Help You Communicate And Set Healthy Boundaries


Critical Thinking And Persuasion

What is critical thinking?

Critical thinking is defined by the American Psychological Association or APA dictionary as “a form of directed, problem-focused thinking in which the individual tests ideas or possible solutions for errors or drawbacks.” Put, to think critically is to analyze something, often as objectively as possible, and come to your conclusion. This is extremely relevant in the context of persuasion because, if you are undergoing a situation like the one depicted above where a boss persuades you at work, or a situation where someone persuades you in an interpersonal relationship, you will be able to think about that situation more objectively using critical thinking skills.

Even if you know how to think critically, difficulties with setting boundaries or asserting yourself can get in the way. If this is true for you, a therapist or counselor may be able to help.

Get Support From A Licensed Therapist

Suppose you’re going through anything mentioned in this article, such as difficulty with boundary setting, concerns at work, financial troubles, and persuasion in interpersonal relationships or concerns related to your career. In that case, you may consider getting support from a counselor or therapist. There are several different reasons to seek therapy, including but not limited to life stress, mental health concerns, relationship improvement, family life, and more.

If you’re looking for a licensed therapist, there are several ways to start your search. You can ask a medical doctor for a referral to a therapist, search the web for a therapist who meets your needs, get in touch with your insurance company to see who they cover, or sign up for an online therapy platform like BetterHelp. The providers at BetterHelp are experienced with various specialties, and both individual and couples counseling is available on the platform. BetterHelp offers affordable plans, and financial aid may be available.

No matter how you find a licensed therapist, you deserve the support you need and move forward in life with confidence.

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