David Wray

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Learn to Persuade without Coercing!

To persuade without coercing. Cartoon by Nina Paley

The difference between persuade, influence, and coerce

Starting with a common understanding of persuade, influence and coerce terms helps!

To persuade is to “make someone do or believe something by giving them a good reason to do it or by talking to that person and making them believe it” (Cambridge Dictionary).

Whereas coercion is to “persuade someone forcefully to do something that they are unwilling to do” (Cambridge Dictionary). 

And finally for completeness, to influence is “the power to have an effect on people or things, or a person or thing that is able to do this” (Cambridge Dictionary).

Balance of power equation with persuasion, influence and coercion. Copyright David Wray, 2021
Figure 1: Balance of Power Equation – Persuade, Influence and Coerce

There are two aspects that differentiate persuasion from influence and coercion, that is power and threat respectively (figure 1). The career skill we seek is to persuade; a skill requiring mastery in communication and honesty.

Why is this skill important for us? It creates the difference between success and failure in a number of areas. For instance, we need the power of persuasion to:

  • Persuade recruiters to hire us
  • Move our team, as a leader, to realize a specific plan
  • Inspire citizens to vote for us as their candidate
  • Secure investment for a start-up venture
  • Win a customer sale 
  • Successfully agree on a complex accounting position with an auditor

This leads us to ask how we improve our ability to persuade other people.

The tenets in the art of persuasion

There are four traits present in a successful persuasion, which link directly back to Aristotle’s foundational work on Rhetoric (4 BC). They are:

  1. Honesty (Character or Ethos)
  2. Logic (Reason or Logos)
  3. Purpose (Emotion or Pathos)
  4. Relatability (storytelling)

Let’s breakdown these traits in more detail.

Honesty

Honesty, in persuasion, is about establishing our credentials and credibility with the person (people) we are seeking to persuade. For example, if I want to position myself as a person worth listening to on ocean conservation then I need credible experience to do so. This may be gained, for instance, through extensive work with the Sea Shepherd, the Ocean Foundation, or the Cousteau Society. From this foundation of honest credibility, we take the first step towards persuading others.

Logic

Here, we are starting to answer the “so what” or “why should I care question”. To persuade anyone, the argument or reasoning needs to follow a logical path that allows others to walk it. We have all undoubtedly witnessed an individual trying to persuade us (or a group) that their idea is worth implementing but doing so in a confusing way. A time where their ideas were disorganized, or the sequence of arguments illogical or incoherent. Or, where the more they spoke the more confusing it became. Logic requires preparation to structure the argument in a clear and simple manner. There are many framework approaches to do so. For instance, the classic method which follows a pattern of introduction, background, proposition, proof, counter-arguments, and conclusion.

Purpose

Purpose or passion are elements necessary to move us into action. This requires the speaker to convey their passion and energy to the audience. A necessary outcome in order to move individuals to act on the feelings evoked by the speaker. There are three guiding principles of purpose, they are Created, Multifaceted, and Evolving. I share more about finding purpose, with application examples, in Finding Everyday Purpose During a Pandemic.

Relatability

A powerful way to move an audience is through storytelling, especially personal stories. Recounting stories of social awkwardness, misfortune, failure, or disaster authentically will inevitably pull the audience in and deepen their investment in the speaker. The easiest content to relate to is a personal story. Think of the best comedians, they all use real stories from their own lives, or those of friends and family, to pull us in.

What comes together to underpin our ability to persuade?

Audience authenticity is the first step toward because it will allow you to earn their trust. When we are direct and clear about what we seek to achieve, we show respect for their time and commitment. It follows that if we lay out our view simply and confidently, supported by a solid business case, it is easy to understand. Therefore, the logic behind our view becomes persuasive. A speaker that fosters a sense of trust, integrity, and empathy with their audience becomes powerful (and by extension influential).

These things cannot be faked, however by listening, preparing and being authentic and honest, we will earn them.

Final Thoughts

Aristotle championed the idea that a person’s ability to speak and write well, using language devices to change another’s point of view, could unleash their human potential and maximize happiness. I would suggest these beliefs hold as true today as they did two millennia ago.

Your turn

Sign-in to the Community Member Area or comment below to share your views on the art of persuading others. What are your techniques?

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