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6 Tools for Persuasion

Effective, ethical rhetorical tactics.

Adrien Coquet, Noun Project, CC
Source: Adrien Coquet, Noun Project, CC

Whether we're speaking to one person or to a group, we have the power to be persuasive— if our arguments are strong and if we use tactics for persuasion such as the following. Because this is Psychology Today, I’ll use a psychology example.

Appeal to core values. The values could be broadly held such as merit, effort, or beauty. Or the values you want to appeal to might be more specific to your audience. In our psychologist example, such a value might be that improvement is possible.

In a different context, values might include community over freedom or vice-versa, family-first or work-first.

To make it easier to be persuasive, speakers generally choose to talk to people who share their values. So, liberal politicians generally talk to their faithful, conservatives to theirs.

Confirmation bias. It’s easier to persuade people to adopt your idea if you point out where it's consistent with what they’re already doing. To take our psychologist example, if you’re proposing a new technique, show how it’s similar to what they’re already doing. Not only does that take advantage of confirmation bias, it implies that the change won’t be that difficult—It builds on what they’re already doing.

Invoke a respected bandwagon. Invoke, for example, a poll of leading psychologists. Or if a group's assent to your idea isn't available, could you cite an expert's endorsement of it?

Rhetorical jujitsu: Use your audience's position to support your contrary opinion. For example, psychoanalysts stress the importance of looking at causation, not just to come up with behavioral strategies. If you were trying to change their mind, you might say something like, “You’re right—It's often important to understand causation and, to that end, we’ve generally found that it’s more helpful to look at current erroneous thinking than childhood issues.

Sandwich the controversial. Often, it’s wise to make your most controversial point penultimately, that is, after you’ve made points that they're likely to agree with but before making your final, also easy-to-agree-with point. Taking our psychology example, a controversial point might be that you believe one-session therapy is often ethical as well as cost effective.

End inspiring. If possible, end with an emotional story that will inspire your listener(s), perhaps the success you had with a challenging client.

Rhetorical tactics can be powerful and, like all power, used for good or ill. We could do worse than to follow Google’s old slogan: “Don’t Be Evil.”

I read this aloud on YouTube.

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