The Nine Principles of Persuasion
January 19, 2015 by Bill Rosenthal

Just over 10 years ago, Communispond published a book authored by some of our senior faculty called The Full Force of Your Ideas. It was a guide to persuasion for business professionals. Persuasion has changed a little in the past ten years, but a chapter in the book on "The Principles of Persuasion" is timeless, and I find it useful to bring these principles out to look at them from time to time. I hope you do, too.

1. Every point of view is reasonable to the person who holds it. You cannot change the point of view of another person unless you respect the point of view they already hold. Paradoxically, you can only change the other person’s point of view by abandoning your own, at least long enough to stand in the other person’s shoes.

2. Persuasion does not result from argument or debate. Persuasion is a not a win-lose proposition. Persuasion is, in essence, a cooperative transaction. It results not in a winner and a loser, but in two winners. You can argue for entertainment. But if you want to get someone to adopt a point of view, change an attitude, or enthusiastically embrace a behavior, avoid argument and persuade. 

3. A persuasion event begins long before you utter a single word. Whether you're trying to make a sale, reorganize a division, or install a new procedure, you can't get buy-in without a putting on a decent performance. Everybody expects a good show and won't be persuaded without one. A good show requires a great deal of prep work, including organizing, planning, audience analysis, and rehearsals.

4. Persuasion takes place in the mind and feelings of the persuaded, not the persuader. This may seem self-evident. People do not change their minds until they are ready to. There is no magical technique that will enable you to persuade. Your job as a persuader is to facilitate the other person’s change of mind. 

5. The more communication channels a persuader uses to convey the message, the greater the chance persuasion will take place. Every individual has a favored channel for receiving information, whether it’s visual, aural, spatial, or some combination. The more channels you use – graphics, text, dramatization, numbers – the more chance you have of entering a person’s mind through the favored channel.

6. Persuasion requires a persuader; visuals can never do more than support a persuasion event. Have you ever reviewed a speaker’s PowerPoint file after the presentation? It’s surprising how unpersuasive the file is without the speaker, isn’t it? PowerPoint can help you make a presentation, but it will never make your point for you.

7. Successful persuasion depends on the audience's trust in the persuader. This is another self-evident one. No one is going to adopt your point of view if they distrust you. First, win the audience’s trust, then make your point.

8. A persuasive message must be memorable, active, or meaningful. People will never be persuaded by your message if it doesn’t get their attention, if it doesn’t stick in their minds, and if it doesn’t relate somehow to their own situation.

9. Persuasion never occurs when the persuasion message is unclear. This is another self-evident one, but it’s surprising how many would-be persuaders lose the possibility of success to jargon, wordiness, vagueness, ambiguity, weak language, complex words, or nested if-thens. 

In addition to the principles, we offer this bit of practical advice: successful persuasion requires as much listening as talking. Maybe more.