What Is The Persuasion Definition

By BetterHelp Editorial Team|Updated July 11, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Tanya Harell, LPC

Persuasion. When you think of the word, you may think of something either positive or negative. Some people may think about peer pressure, such as a person in authority telling you that you must do something or else you won't fit in. Alternatively, you may think of a salesman trying to get you to buy his wares. Whatever comes to mind, persuasion is an interesting concept to study, because everyone does it. We all try to persuade someone at some point, and it's needed to survive. We must persuade someone that we are the best person for the job. We must persuade someone to cut down the price of what we want to buy. In this post, we will look at persuasion and its many aspects.

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Persuasion Affects Everyone

You're a smart person, and you believe that nothing can change your mind. No one will blatantly advertise to you or try to get you to do something that you don't want to. And while at times, you can evade pushy people, persuasion is more than just someone trying to push their beliefs or products onto you. Persuasion can come in the form of something more subtle, and you may be surprised at how much it can affect you.

Persuasion can be positive or negative. It is neutral in force. On the one hand, you can be persuaded into doing drugs. However, you can also be persuaded to quit them as well. No matter who you are, you have been persuaded to do something in your life. So what is persuasion?


Persuasion can be broken down into a few small definitions, but the basic definition is that it's a symbolic process. This process makes us try to convince others to take out behaviors or attitudes and change them into something that we want them to be.

Elements of persuasion include:

  • It is symbolic. It will use every symbol it can to persuade you, include pictures, sounds, words, and so on.
  • Persuasion has to be deliberate. It can't be accidental.
  • A person, in the end, has to be the one to choose. Persuasion does not involve force, but a suggestion.
  • People can persuade you in all sorts of ways using different types of media.

Persuasion Throughout History

Since humans first developed language, we have been persuading. Different tribes persuaded another tribe to join forces or trade food. Persuasion caused many wars. With that said, persuasion, while the concept remains the same, has changed its methods throughout history.

First, how many persuasive messages we have had has grown. Just a hundred years ago, there weren't many good ways to communicate with the populace. Now, you log on social media and see advertisement upon advertisement, or people trying to persuade you to believe what they believe. Persuasion can travel much faster thanks to the advent of technology. Once people had access to radio, they, of course, used that to their advantage. This has helped them spread a persuasive message like never before. Especially advertising firms. The goal of an advertisement is to get you to buy their product or support their belief and to do that; an advertiser will use many ways to speak to as many people as they can.

In modern times, persuasion is more subtle than it used to be. People don't like being blatantly advertised to, so a firm has to learn to get the message across in a way that doesn't sound pushy or like they are being advertised to. Subtle imagery and suggestions are needed if companies want to persuade someone.

Persuasion is even tougher as well because, on the Internet, everyone is competing to get their name out. Someone has to persuade you in a way that makes you want to buy their product over the product of someone else.

Principles Of Persuasion

One theory about persuasion is that six principles make it up. Let's look at all six and see what they entail.

Reciprocity Principle

This persuasion principle simply involves you paying back what you were given. If someone gives you something, you may feel persuaded to give something back to complete your exchange. Being reciprocal is wired in our DNA, it seems like. If you offer someone something, you should make it exclusive and make it personal. This will make the person feel like they are indebted to you.

Commitment And Consistency

We would like to believe that we are diverse in our many choices throughout life. However, we also have a comfort zone. When we are hounded with different choices, we may want to stick with what we know to make it easier, and because the unknown is much more feared.

So if you want to persuade someone, you should commit. You may do this by having a brand that a person will recognize whenever they need something. One way you can keep someone is to ask them to do something small first, and once they've bought your product, reward them with loyalty deals. We all know of loyalty programs. It's a good way to keep the customer coming back.


Social Proof Principle

One way we are persuaded to do something is if a friend or family member is doing it as well. We like to be recommended by the people we trust, or by people who we've never met but believe them. For example, celebrities are commonly used to endorse a product because we like them. Experts in a field may be used to persuade them to buy something. Sometimes, the product you're persuaded to buy does not come from the persuasion from them, but instead by reading the reviews from other people, or from crowds themselves.


The liking principle is when you are persuaded by someone that you like. This is quite similar to the previous principle, and like the last one, it can involve friends, family, and loved ones. However, it can involve strangers as well. If someone you find attractive recommends something to you, you are more likely to be persuaded. Often, ads may use attractive people to get the point across.

Attractiveness doesn't just involve the physical appearance of people, however. It can also involve the attractiveness of a website. A good-looking website that is user-friendly can attract many people. If a person who is trying to persuade you acts friendly instead of like a salesperson, they may be able to convince you. Complimenting the person you are trying to persuade help. Just don't sound too creepy when it comes to compliments. When trying to persuade someone, having a sense of cooperation and wanting to fight for the same causes helps. Also, what can help is if you associate these causes with like-minded brands.

Authority Principle

The argument from authority may be considered a fallacy. However, we all listen to the argument at some point or the other. Someone who is in a position of authority, or considered to be an expert, can help you be persuaded. Sometimes, the authority can be vague as well. Many ads will say things such as "according to research," or "science says," in their advertisements. Who are these researchers? The person buying the product won't care. The implication of authority is enough to make them want to buy the product.

Sometimes, it can come from actual positions of authority. A politician you like may convince you to try to make a change or vote for someone. At times, trusting someone with experience is good, but you should always remain skeptical and make sure the experienced person does have experience.

The Principle Of Scarcity

Finally, we have the scarcity principle. This is when people are persuaded to do something if it's considered rare or exclusive. We want to be the person who has something that no one else has. You will see this quite often in ads. Commercials tell you to call within the next ten minutes to get the best offer. Usually, it doesn't matter when you call, but the urgency helps.

Many products will be limited time or a limited number, or at least claim to be. This will give potential customers an incentive to buy the product. You can also convince people by claiming that you're one of a kind.

Also, there's the auction. An auction can convince people to buy your product because of its competitiveness.

Learn More About The Role Of Persuasion In Life And Relationships


Seek Help!

There are many ways you can be persuasive and the many ways you can be persuaded. If you want to improve your skepticism so you can be persuaded less, or you want to learn how to be more persuasive if there is an idea of the product you want to promote, speak to a counselor. A counselor knows how the human condition works and will teach you how to speak in a way that's suitable for your character. Speak to a counselor today and see how you can be more persuasive with whatever you do.

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