What Lovers Tell Us About Persuasion

“The thing that is most likely to guide a person’s behavioral decisions isn’t the most potent or familiar or instructive aspect of the whole situation; rather, it’s the one that is most prominent in consciousness at the time of the decision.”

Separations are prominent in the consciousness of our mind – not connections. What’s different stands out and gets our attention. Knowing how this works will help you better persuade your lover and everyone else.

Robert Cialdini explains:

Recently, a team of research psychologists in Texas recruited dating couples into a study of communication patterns. The researchers asked each pair to identify and discuss an unresolved issue in their relationships, one that either partner (or both) sought to change. With recording instruments running, the scientists registered precisely what the communicators said, as well as the effectiveness of the communicators’ various appeals in swaying their intended targets.

The findings are eye opening. The communicators used three differing styles to gain persuasive success. Some tried what we can call the coercive approach, threatening their partners with regrettable consequences if they didn’t yield (e.g., “If you can’t change on this, I’m just going to have to do some things you really won’t appreciate” or “Unless you’re willing to agree here, I don’t see how I could possibly help you with x”). This hardball strategy was a disaster. Not only did it fail to spur the desired result, it produced the opposite effect, driving the partner farther away from the communicator’s position.
Other communicators tried a less combative technique that we might label the rational approach. They attempted to argue that theirs was the more reasonable view and that it only made sense for their partner to adopt it (e.g., “If you’ll just look at this thing rationally, you’ll see my point” or “Once you take everything into consideration, you’ll want to change your mind”). Although not as misguided as the coercive approach, this persuasive style didn’t fare well either, leaving its targets wholly unchanged.

But there was a third set of communicators who employed a breathtakingly simple and successful procedure that we term the relationship-raising approach. Before making a request for change from their partner, they merely made mention of their existing relationship. They might say, “You know, we’ve been together for a while now” or “We’re a couple; we share the same goals.” Then, they’d deliver their appeal: “So, I’d appreciate it if you could find a way to change your stand on this one.” Or, in the most streamlined version of the relationship-raising approach, these individuals simply incorporated the pronouns “we,” “our,” and “us” into their request.

The outcome? The relationship partners exposed to this technique shifted significantly in the requested direction.

Two qualities of this approach are worth noting.

First, its functional essence is a form of evidentiary non sequitur. Stating, “You know, we’ve been together for a while now” in no way establishes the logical or empirical validity of the communicator’s position. Instead, it offers an entirely different reason for change—the relationship itself, with all its attendant trust, strength, and security. Back in the 1960s, the brilliant media commentator Marshall McLuhan observed that often in the realm of mass communication, “the medium is the message.” I’m willing to claim that often, in the realm of social influence, the relationship is the message

The second remarkable quality of the relationship-raising route to persuasion is that it provides nothing that isn’t already known. Typically, both parties well understand that they’re in a relationship. But that implication-laden piece of information can easily drop from the top of consciousness when other considerations vie for the same space. True to its name, the relationship-raising approach merely elevates one’s awareness of the personal connection in the moment before a request so that it will have due impact on the response.

As Cialdini concludes, “[w]e’d be fools to think that a force as primitive and powerful as human connection can direct change only within romantic relationships.”