Straight-line Persuasion: How To Think Critically When Being Persuaded

Medically reviewed by Dr. April Brewer, DBH, LPC
Updated February 22, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

“Straight-line persuasion” may be known from a popular book by Jordan Belfort on the topic. Straight-line persuasion also refers to a common tactic used among professionals in the sales industry.

If you work in sales, advertising, or another similar field, persuasion may be an essential part of your work. However, many individuals can benefit from being savvy regarding persuasion and knowing how it can be used in healthy contexts.

In some cases, persuasion may be unhealthy or harmful to an individual. When others use persuasion against you, you may wonder how to react or stand your ground.

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Are you being persuaded in ways that make you uncomfortable?

Why learn about persuasion?

You might wonder why you’d want to learn about persuasion definition 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 particular sales tactic. 

Being unaware of persuasion and how it could affect you might cause you to spend unwisely or make decisions that do not benefit you. 

Allowing yourself to be persuaded may feel okay in some situations. However, using critical thinking skills may be beneficial so that you can stop yourself from making inappropriate decisions due to psychological tactics. These may include financial or emotional decisions that harm you in some way. 

Persuasion may not only be used in sales or advertising. It could also be used in the workplace and interpersonal relationships. Although these can be very different contexts, similar tactics used to persuade people may be seen in various situations. 

What is persuasion?

The Merriam-Webster definition of persuasion is “the act of convincing.” Persuasion may not be inherently flawed. In some contexts, it may be healthy. For example, you may persuade someone to do something that will benefit them, the community, or the planet. Or you may convince yourself to get support when you’re struggling. 

There are different types of persuasion. Just as some may be used in healthy ways, there are times when influence might cause you to cross your boundaries or feel manipulated.

What is straight-line persuasion? 

Straight-line persuasion is a term coined by Jordan Belfort to describe an “effective way to sell.” It is often used in a sales or marketing environment. 

In straight-line persuasion, an individual will attempt to develop a quick rapport with their target, gather intelligence about the individual, and control the interaction so that it doesn’t move off-course. It may involve dressing for success, using an upbeat tone of voice, and pushing close to people’s boundaries before moving back to a baseline sales technique. 

Straight-line persuasion is not the only type of persuasion that exists. Some manners of persuasion are used in relationships, workplaces, or everyday life. 

Types of psychological persuasion

The three commonly studied types of persuasion are ethos, pathos, and logos.

  • Ethos-Motivated Persuasion: The act of swaying someone’s opinion using credibility, morals, and ethics.
  • Logos-Motivated Persuasion: The act of swaying someone’s ideals using the appeal of logic.
  • Pathos-Motivated Persuasion: The act of changing someone’s mind using the appeal of emotion.

Often, if someone is trying to persuade you to do something, they may use a combination of these tactics. For example, they might try to provoke an emotional response from you, sway you from a more logical side, or point out the morals or ethics of going along with their plan or stance. 


Pathos-motivated persuasion

Emotional appeal is a common persuasion tactic. Have you ever had a boss who said, “we’re a family” in the workplace? With that emotional tie, you might extend yourself past what you’re paid to do. That’s an example of emotional appeal as a persuasion tactic.

Another example might be a sad commercial that prompts you to donate or buy something. Someone might also use a positive emotional connection in this way, using flattery, compliments, or perceived closeness.

Logos-motivated persuasion

A logically motivated argument doesn’t necessarily mean that the person persuading you is speaking objectively. They may use logic but ignore facts that do not support their position.

For example, one may use an outdated research study to change your stance without mentioning studies that disproved their beliefs. Someone may also argue that disagreeing with them would be illogical or ignorant, even if that is false.

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 identifying as “an expert” persuade you. For example, you may notice a “doctor” recommending a new product in a commercial. However, they may be an actor dressed in a lab coat.  

Alternatively, think of a time when your morals and ethics have been used to persuade you. For example, someone may claim that those who disagree with them are “harming the environment.” Both examples could be considered ethos-motivated persuasion.

Kairos persuasion 

Another type of persuasion is Kairos, a Greek word that translates to “right moment.” Think of a time you’ve seen a limited time offer and felt pressured to buy something you wouldn’t have otherwise bought. This example can show Kairos-motivated persuasion.

Combination persuasion 

Often, individuals may 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.

Persuasion may not always be manipulative or harmful. However, there may be times when people 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 crosses your boundaries 

In some cases, those trying to persuade you may disregard your boundaries. Some examples may include the following: 

  • A friend guilts you into telling that you do not want to tell by saying, “If you cared about me as a friend, you wouldn’t keep secrets from me.”
  • A street vendor in the city continues to nag you to buy their items after you’ve told them to go away. Eventually, they throw the item on the ground and claim you pushed them, trying to manipulate you into feeling bad and purchasing the item. 
  • After you tell someone to stop calling you, they switch to mail marketing to attempt to sell a product. 

Setting firm boundaries can be helpful in this situation. Strong boundaries may require solid consequences when your needs are not respected. 

Negative mental or physical health consequences 

The persuasion of someone else may impact your mental, financial, or physical health negatively. For example, a boss may persuade you to extend yourself too far at work. As a result, you don’t get enough sleep or don’t have the capacity to take care of yourself in other ways. 

Another example could be if a romantic partner persuades you to pay for the bulk of the bills you divide as a couple, even if you can’t afford it. Due to this, you may not have enough money for food for the month. 


If someone expects you to betray yourself or your ethics and what you feel is correct, it may be an unhealthy example of persuasion. For example, a friend who pushes you to cover for them while they cheat on their partner may be causing a moral dilemma for you. 

What does it mean when persuasion works? 

If these persuasion tactics work on you, it doesn’t mean that you are inherently weak or easily influenced. Persuasion tactics are often developed using the knowledge of human psychology, which can impact many people. 

However, understanding persuasion tactics and taking a moment to think critically can be advantageous. Reading the examples above, you may see how resistance to persuasion could be beneficial.

Getty/Luis Alvarez
Are you being persuaded in ways that make you uncomfortable?

Critical thinking and persuasion

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.”

To think critically may mean analyzing something, often as objectively as possible, and coming to your own conclusion. Critical thinking can be relevant in the context of persuasion. For example, if you are undergoing a situation like the ones depicted above, you may be able to think about that situation more objectively using critical thinking skills. Thus, you may prevent feelings of regret or embarrassment later.

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

Get support from a licensed therapist

You may be experiencing difficulties setting boundaries, concerns at work, financial troubles, or manipulation in interpersonal relationships. In these cases, you might consider getting support from a counselor or therapist. There are several reasons to seek therapy, including but not limited to life stress, mental health concerns, relationship improvement, or family life. 

There are several ways to start your search if you’re looking for a licensed therapist. 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

Clinical studies have shown that online therapy effectively treats various conditions, including social anxietypanic disorder, and depression. Similar studies have also proven the efficacy of online couples therapy. Online therapy has multiple benefits, including accessibility and affordability, compared to in-person treatments.


Persuasion is the practice of attempting to alter someone else’s opinions or actions, and there are various ways someone may go about it. While persuasion is often associated with sales and marketing, you may notice yourself being persuaded in other contexts, such as on social media, in friendships, in romantic relationships, and at work. 

Because of how widespread these tactics are, it can be helpful to recognize, understand, and resist persuasion when necessary.

Persuasion isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, approaching it with a critical mind and objective thinking may help you set boundaries and understand what you feel comfortable with. It may also help you avoid being manipulated or controlled.

If you’re struggling with persuasion or other mental health concerns, consider reaching out to a mental health counselor to learn coping mechanisms to defend yourself.

Learn the subtleties of persuasion
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