Tag: Persuasion

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.”

The Difference Between Persuade, Convince, and Coerce

The difference is worth understanding.

In a recent slate article, K.C. Cole writes:

Persuasion requires understanding. Coercion requires only power. We usually equate coercion with obvious force, but sometimes it’s far more subtle. If you want people to stop smoking, for example, you don’t need to make it illegal; you can simply make smoking expensive (raise taxes) or offer bribes (lower health insurance premiums). Both are still coercive in that the power to give or take away resides entirely in the hands of the “coercer.”

Persuasion is fundamentally different because it relies on understanding what smoking does to the human body. Someone who’s persuaded of its dangers has an incentive to stop that’s entirely independent of anyone else’s actions.

I agree that coercion involves the use of (or the threat of) force.

Where I disagree — and where this gets slightly murky — is that I don’t think you need to fully understand something (at least at a conscious level) to be persuaded to act. That assumes persuasion is rational.

I think you are persuaded by appeals to the irrational — emotions, psychology, and imagination.

Understanding something (e.g., what smoking does to the human body) largely comes from facts or arguments that appeal to intellect. When I get you to do something based on facts and reason I’m convincing you to act, which is different from persuading you to act.

Seth Goldin devised an interesting heuristic to think about this — “Engineers convince. Marketers persuade.”

Cole continues:

It’s a distinction I think about often in teaching. If I get students to do things a certain way for fear of getting an F or hopes of getting an A, it means I’ve influenced their behavior for the duration of the class. If I’ve managed to persuade them that my method has merit, I’ve likely made converts for life.

Cole argues that you can be coerced into doing something for the duration of class, yet persuaded by merit to do it for life. That’s an appealing argument but it’s flawed.

If you’re persuading someone to do something by merit then you’re appealing to intellect and reason not emotions or imagination — that’s not persuading them, it’s convincing them.

While morally better than coercion, I doubt Cole’s appeal to reason alone would create a lifelong change in his students. Such a successful outcome (changing behavior for life) would likely be the result of a confluence of factors, not just one.

If I’m trying to get you to do something, there are a number of possible end states (for simplicity, I’ll remove coercion). You can be (1) convinced of something but don’t take action (e.g., I can convince you that smoking is bad for you, yet you fail to quit); (2) convinced of something and you do take action (e.g., I convince you smoking is bad and you quit); (3) convinced and persuaded (e.g., maybe you were in the camp of #1 but now I’ve persuaded to act); (4) unpersuaded and unconvinced; or (5) unconvinced yet persuaded to act.

I think Cole convinced but didn’t persuade his students (#2).

I looked up ‘persuade/convince’ in my copy of Garner’s Modern American Usage. The entry reads:

persuade; convince. In the best usage, one persuades another to do something but convinces another of something.

Of course, coming from a usage dictionary you get also get usage instructions:

Avoid convince to—the phrasing *she convinced him to resign is traditionally viewed as less good than she persuaded him to resign.

But that means that you can never be convinced to do something – only persuaded. I don’t agree.

I think Seth Goldin is closer to the mark. He points out:

Persuasion appeals to the emotions and to fear and to the imagination. Convincing requires a spreadsheet or some other rational device.

You can convince someone to do something based on reason. You can coerce someone to do something under threat. The way to persuade someone, however, is to appeal to their emotions.

The hardest thing to do is convince someone they’re wrong. If you find yourself in this circumstance, attempt to persuade them.

It’s easier to persuade someone if you’ve convinced them, and it’s easier to convince them if you’ve persuaded them.

Persuading > Convincing > Coercion

Ideally you want to convince and persuade.

Happy Holidays!


Secrets from the Science of Persuasion

A great animation describing the fundamental principles of persuasion based on the research of Dr. Robert Cialdini, Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University.

Dr. Cialdini, if you’re not familiar, is the author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion and the co-author of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Business Week International Bestseller Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive.

Learning about the six universals that guide human behavior could be the best 12 minutes of your day.

  1. Reciprocity
  2. Commitment
  3. Social Proof
  4. Liking
  5. Authority
  6. Scarcity

Dale Carnegie’s Seven Rules For Making Your Home Life Happier

This section was included in the original 1936 edition of How to Win Friends and Influence People but omitted from the revised 1981 edition.

  1. Don’t nag.
  2. Don’t try to make your partner over.
  3. Don’t criticize.
  4. Give honest appreciation.
  5. Pay little attentions.
  6. Be courteous.
  7. Read a good book on the sexual side of marriage.
Still curious? Check out the post on How To Win Friends and Influence People or buy the book.

The Best Summary of How to Win Friends and Influence People

A brief, no fluff, summary of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Techniques in Handling People

  1. Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.
  2. Give honest and sincere appreciation.
  3. Arouse in the other person an eager want.

Six ways to Make People Like You

  1. Become genuinely interested in other people.
  2. Smile.
  3. Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
  4. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
  5. Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.
  6. Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.

Win People to Your Way of Thinking

  1. The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.
  2. Show respect for the other person’s opinions. Never say, “You’re wrong.”
  3. If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.
  4. Begin in a friendly way.
  5. Get the other person saying “yes, yes” immediately.
  6. Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.
  7. Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers.
  8. Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.
  9. Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires.
  10. Appeal to the nobler motives.
  11. Dramatize your ideas.
  12. Throw down a challenge.

Be a Leader: How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment

  1. Begin with praise and honest appreciation.
  2. Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly.
  3. Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.
  4. Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.
  5. Let the other person save face.
  6. Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. Be “hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.”
  7. Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.
  8. Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.
  9. Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest.


That’s not all the book had to offer. Here are the other points Carnegie makes worth noting.


Criticism is futile because it puts a person on the defensive and usually makes him strive to justify himself. Criticism is dangerous, because it wounds a person’s precious pride, hurts his sense of importance, and arouses resentment. …. Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain—and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.

That reminds me of this famous quote by Thomas Carlyle: “A great man shows his greatness by the way he treats little men.”

People are Emotional

When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity.

The Key to Influencing Others

[T]he only way on earth to influence other people is to talk about what they want and show them how to get it.

The Secret of Success

If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.

Like our weekly newsletter, Carnegie’s book is full of timeless wisdom and insights that you can use at work and home.

Read this next: Our best work on getting the most out of your reading and thinking better

To Be Persuasive, You’re Going to Need More Than Facts

When is the last time someone told you a fact that caused you to change your mind? It’s likely you can’t think of a verifiable example. And yet, when it comes to trying to persuade others, we often employ facts in an argument thinking they will change the mind of the other person. But that’s not how it works.

Persuading others, and even ourselves is about more than just putting facts out there and letting the chips fall as they may. You simply can’t have the impact you want with facts alone.

Kathryn Schulz did a fabulous TED talk on what it’s like to be wrong. Schulz argues the first thing we do when people disagree with us is attempt to educate them by giving them the facts. When this fails, when people have the same information we have and reach a different conclusion than we have, we consider them idiots.

“Faced with a choice between changing one’s mind and proving there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy with the proof.”

— J.K. Galbraith

Persuading Others

As Neil deGrasse Tyson argues, in this brief clip that you while you have to understand the facts and arguments you really need to understand what’s already in their head and how those ideas got there in the first place before you can change someone’s mind.

As Tyson says:

Persuasion isn’t always here’s the facts, you’re either an idiot or you’re not. It’s here are the facts and here is a sensitivity to your state of mind. And it’s the facts plus the sensitivity when convolved together creates impact.

So why are we so ineffective at persuading others?

We have to understand where they’re coming from. Humans are tribal. We evolved in small groups where it was a bad idea to stand out. While people might have believed something the tribe didn’t, they would rarely speak out. Why risk death by openly defying the group? When your life is on the line, it’s best to keep facts and opinions to yourself or, even better, start believing things that aren’t true.

As Steven Pinker put it in Language, Cognition, and Human Nature: “People are embraced or condemned according to their beliefs, so one function of the mind may be to hold beliefs that bring the belief-holder the greatest number of allies, protectors, or disciples, rather than beliefs that are most likely to be true.”

When we’re faced with a choice between being correct or being accepted, more often than not we choose the ladder. Think of the last time you were with friends for dinner and someone said something that you not only disagreed with but was also factually incorrect. Did you correct them? Or did you sit there quietly, keeping your knowledge to yourself because you didn’t want to confront the person? It’s dangerous to argue in a group setting.

“The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.”

— Leo Tolstoy

Solomon Asch did a lot of experiments to prove that we conform. In one, subjects were shown a drawn line and asked to identify a line of the same length among three lines drawn on another card. Actors were instructed to say aloud the wrong answer. Although the answer was obvious, a shocking number of the subjects gave the incorrect answer to conform with the others in the room.

In another, a subject walked into an elevator with a group of actors who immediately turned and faced the back of the elevator. What do you suppose the subjects did?

Despite our best intentions to override our evolutionary programming, we often fall short.

We’ve been brought up to believe that changing our mind is akin to a loss in social status.

Psychological Safety

We need psychological safety in order to change our minds. We need to know that we’re not going to cease being part of the tribe. We need to know that we’re not going to lose a friend. We need to know that promotions are not affected by disagreement.

One of the reasons it’s easier to argue with a spouse is because of that ring on your finger. A wedding band represents a promise to each other that you are not going anywhere (easily). And it is this promise that helps us feel safe in a relationship of marriage. It is this safety that gives you perceived permission to disagreeable and try to persuade the other person that you are right and they are wrong.

Friends are another interesting example. If we are arguing with a friend, we know that we have disagreed with them before and we have not lost the friendship. We feel some level of safety and comfort.

In both of these cases, we have a psychological safety net. And yet, because of this trusted relationship, we sometimes view changing our minds as a loss of status. In this sense, we choose optics over outcomes and end up on the wrong side of right.

The psychological safety net makes it easier for us to try and change someone else’s mind. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean it makes it easier to change our own minds.

When it comes to changing our minds two things that stand out are: (1) it’s best done by someone we like, and (2) group settings influence what we think.

We’re most likely persuaded by people we like. When’s the last time you didn’t like or respect someone and they convinced you to change your mind? It almost never happens.

Reading is a great example. We can be friends with the eminent dead and argue with them all night long. It’s not like they are going to argue back. As long as we do the work required to hold an opinion this can be an excellent way to change our minds.

People we don’t like can’t persuade us. All the logic in the world won’t change your mind if you dislike the person being logical.

You need to sell yourself before you can sell your ideas. 

Advertising companies use celebrities because they know you are more likely to be persuaded by someone you like and respect. And celebrities have a large cohort of fans who like and respect them.

Changing our minds is painful. Going through that alone is easier than in a group. the Asch experiments weren’t about changing our mind, they were about giving the answer in the first place.

When we’re alone we don’t have to admit to others what changed our mind. In fact, we often don’t know what changed our mind. If we watch a documentary on sugar and resolve to eat less sugar we might not know which part of the argument changed our mind, we only know that we’re convinced.

We also know that there is a difference between changing our mind and socializing it. We don’t have to tell others we’re eating less sugar — that’s very specific. Instead, if they notice that our diet has changed we can simply tell them we’re eating healthy and avoid a possible confrontation.

The Bottom Line

We evolved from tribes and group status is important. For many years being left out of the group meant death so we said things that we didn’t believe and sought to avoid confrontation. This evolutionary programming was hard-coded into us at birth — It’s the reason we don’t call our aunt out at Christmas dinner when she’s incorrect. Yet there are subsets of groups where we feel safe enough to voice an opinion, two notable examples being friendship and marriage. And yet if we’re on the other side (that is the side attempting to be persuaded), it’s still difficult to change your minds. Changing our minds can result in a perception that we’re losing status. Friends who agree with us on most things are the most likely to persuade us. They are even more likely if we’re not in a group setting.

If you want to change minds, you first have to see the world through the eyes of the other person.

Understanding Over Correcting

Before you try and persuade others with facts, first seek to understand their position and why they hold it. Identify with them. Then, and only then, have you done the work required to try and persuade someone else.