Persuasive communication: learning skills to influence and inspire

The power of communication lies in its ability to connect individuals, convey ideas and drive change. Whether you’re engaging in personal conversations, professional discussions or public speeches, the way you communicate can significantly impact the outcomes you achieve.

The specific objectives you aim to accomplish shape effective communication. The words you choose are significant to the extent that they facilitate a constructive dialogue with your audience. The meaning of “constructive” varies based on the interaction’s unique context and goals.

Possible objectives of communication include informing, entertaining, engaging and persuading. The art of persuasion is the central focus of this guide. We’ll delve into strategies for crafting convincing arguments and successfully influencing other people to take desired actions.

Persuasive communication: the basics

Persuasion is the ability to change or influence someone’s behavior or attitudes through verbal and nonverbal communication. It can exist in any form of communication, including the following:

  • formal presentations
  • written memos or emails
  • chat or text messages
  • personal conversations
  • subtle nonverbal messages

To engage in persuasive communication, you must aim to influence other people’s thoughts, attitudes or actions and tailor your message accordingly.

Persuasive communication exists in almost every professional or personal context. You’ll see persuasive efforts anywhere, from politicians seeking to sway public opinion to marketers aiming to shape consumer behavior.

You even employ persuasion in your personal life, whether it’s convincing a friend to try a new hobby or negotiating with a family member to reach a compromise. However, for the purposes of this guide, we’ll primarily focus on persuasion in professional environments.

3 outcomes of intentional persuasion

According to communication experts, persuasion aims for three types of outcomes.

1. Changing attitudes, beliefs or behaviors

Your aim in this scenario is to persuade the other person that their current system of beliefs, attitudes or actions needs to change in some way. This typically involves:

  • presenting an alternative and demonstrating how it aligns with their values or goals,
  • highlighting the drawbacks of their current stance,
  • explaining or showing why that alternative is better, and
  • addressing their concerns.

You might use evidence, examples or emotional appeals to make your point. The key is to help others see why shifting their perspective or behavior is in their best interest.

2. Reinforcing current attitudes, beliefs or behaviors

In business, persuasion often aims to reinforce the audience’s existing attitudes, beliefs or behaviors, whether they are internal stakeholders, employees or customers.

You’ll need to capitalize on familiarity and comfort, minimizing resistance to change. By reinforcing what customers already value, companies foster trust and deepen relationships, ultimately driving sustained success and profitability.

3. Shaping undeveloped attitudes, beliefs or behaviors

This aim sits between the first two. It involves an audience that is on the fence.

You’ll need to direct your efforts toward “winning” them to your side. To do this, focus on building a compelling case for why your position is the right one. This might involve introducing them to new ideas, perspectives or information they hadn’t considered before.

By presenting a clear, persuasive argument and addressing their uncertainties, you can shape your audience’s attitudes and beliefs in a direction that aligns with your own.

Implicit vs. explicit persuasion

Whatever the context, you’ll typically try to persuade someone either explicitly or implicitly. The Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) of Persuasion refers to these two routes as central and peripheral.

Understanding the differences between implicit and explicit persuasion is crucial for developing effective persuasive communication strategies. You can create a more compelling argument that resonates with your audience when you recognize when to use each approach and tailor your message accordingly. This is particularly important in the workplace, where persuasive communication plays a vital role in various aspects of professional life.

No route is more effective by default. Instead, each can be effective depending on the message and context. Just as importantly, people tend toward either rational or irrational thought processes and will react to either route accordingly.

The central route to persuasion

This route is direct and explicit.

It uses clear, objective information like data and facts and involves careful consideration and evaluation of the message’s content.

On the ELM, it falls on the “high elaboration” end of the spectrum, focusing on the message rather than the sender. People are typically persuaded by this type of communication because they have been rationally convinced of the message’s content.

The peripheral route to persuasion

This route, on the other hand, is indirect and implicit.

Where the central route focuses on facts, the peripheral route centers on emotions. It relies on associations and cues rather than the message’s content.

Subtle elements of communication, like nonverbal signals or even the presence of famous or attractive sources, can become shortcuts to persuasion. Think celebrity endorsement in ads.

Responses are quicker but may not be as deeply ingrained as the central route.

The importance of strategic persuasion in the workplace

So, why is strategic persuasion such an important interpersonal skill?

In a workplace context, it can influence every aspect of daily operations. This might include collaborative tasks and relationships between supervisors and their teams. Supervisors use persuasion to get their team’s buy-in for the necessary work. Once they secure this, they continue to use persuasion to keep everyone aligned and focused on working toward actionable plans.

Coworkers use their persuasive skills on a daily basis to work better with each other and improve horizontal communication. Any task that requires multiple individuals’ efforts will involve some degree of persuasion. Team members will need to convince each other of the best approaches to tackle tasks, allocate responsibilities and achieve the desired outcome.

Of course, persuasion also plays a crucial role in more formal communication. Examples include promotional efforts and inner-office email announcements. An intentional approach to persuasion will increase the chance that your audience will adopt the right mindset or take the right action.

Positive and negative uses of persuasive communication in the workplace

Persuasion is a powerful tool in the workplace, yet its impact depends on how you wield it.

Here are some beneficial uses of persuasive communication in the workplace:

  • Getting employees to buy into the organization’s mission motivates them to work for more than just a paycheck.
  • Using affirming language when employees perform a task well reinforces the behavior. This increases its likelihood of recurring in the future.
  • Buy-in is more likely when you ask for resources, such as increased budget or personnel, by making a considered argument about how these investments will benefit the company.

However, persuasive communication can also be harmful in professional settings. Consider these examples of negative persuasive communication in the workplace:

  • Persuading colleagues that you measure their performance against that of other team members creates potentially unhealthy competition.
  • You might show favoritism to some team members when motivating them to perform tasks through inconsistent body language.
  • You might try to motivate your team through falsehoods about why their performance matters or how it impacts the wider organization.

Ultimately, how you use the power of persuasion determines whether it can be an effective tool for achieving your goals and those of your organization and audience.

The 7 principles of persuasion

Dr Robert Cialdini used psychological science to identify the “seven principles of influence,” or “the seven principles of persuasion.”

You can use the principles to persuade others. The key is understanding and leveraging the main psychological factors that influence human decision-making.

Not every persuasive message needs all of these elements. Some situations may call for a different emphasis than others. Still, as Cialdini outlined, these are the psychological concepts underlying every attempt at persuasion, which makes adjusting to and following them an important part of the equation.

1. Reciprocity

Reciprocity is the inherent obligation you might feel when you receive something of value. You might feel obligated to give something of value in return.

For example, offering a free research report increases the chance that someone interested in the topic will provide their contact information in return.

By providing something of value first, you can increase the likelihood of others responding positively to your persuasive efforts.

2. Scarcity

The less available something appears to be, the more demand for it increases. That’s scarcity.

As Cialdini puts it, “People want more of the things they can have less of.”

To employ scarcity to persuade someone, you’ll need to point out what they stand to lose if they choose not to engage. Highlighting your proposal’s unique or time-sensitive nature can create a sense of urgency and encourage action.

3. Authority

Authority is the idea that we tend to trust those we consider experts on the subject.

Establishing your own credibility, expertise or authority in a given area is a crucial first step before making your case to your audience. It can increase the impact of your persuasive messages.

4. Commitment/consistency

Commitment/consistency is the idea that we want our beliefs to match our values. People strive to keep their beliefs, attitudes and behaviors consistent.

Encouraging others to make small commitments can lead to larger commitments that fall in line with your persuasive goals.

5. Liking

This is the tendency to listen to and believe those we already like. For example, you might prepare to align yourself with those you think are similar to yourself, even when it comes to objective topics like technical knowledge.

You are more likely to persuade your audience when they feel they are similar to you. Building rapport, finding common ground and presenting yourself as friendly and approachable can enhance your persuasive ability.

6. Social proof

Social proof is the tendency to mimic the behavior of those around you, including peers and experts. You need others to validate your beliefs and actions. When they do, you are more likely to follow in their path.

This is why testimonials and reviews have become such a core part of almost any online product promotion or sales strategy. Demonstrating that others have already embraced your position or taken the desired action can be a powerful persuasive tool.

7. Unity

Unity occurs when you take the liking principle to a deeper level. Liking largely focuses on surface similarity, but the unity principle focuses on identities the messenger and audience share more deeply.

If you see yourself in the messenger or someone endorsing the message, you’ll be more likely to be convinced. Emphasizing shared values, experiences or identities can foster a sense of unity and increase persuasive effectiveness.

8 persuasion strategies

Human communication has many nuances. Even a seemingly straightforward topic like persuasion can quickly feel complex. It’s no wonder that communication scholars have advanced models like the ELM to help us understand it better.

However, by breaking persuasion down by its individual components, mastering the art of persuasive communication becomes much more achievable.

The following eight strategies can help you become a more effective persuader:

1. Know your audience

Understanding your audience is a fundamental principle of persuasion. It allows you to tailor your message and approach to their needs, interests and communication styles.

Communicating with a technical audience, for example, may require a more explicit or central route to persuasion that focuses on consistency and authority.

Persuading a non-technical audience, on the other hand, may require a more peripheral, implicit route focused on reciprocity and liking.

2. Focus on attention first

Capturing and maintaining your audience’s attention is crucial for successful persuasion. Even the most persuasive message won’t matter if your audience isn’t paying attention to you. They may not hear or process your message effectively.

Your approach should always feature a phase that focuses on attention-grabbing alone. You should do this before you go in-depth on the points you want to make.

This may be the opener in a formal presentation. It may also be a simple joke related to the topic or a real-world example of your point that brings it to life.

Once you have your audience’s attention, you can elaborate further.

3. Build credibility with your audience

Research has shown again and again that we’re more persuaded by those we trust. There are many routes to building credibility. Here are a few tips:

  • Present yourself well, establishing yourself in your audience’s mind as an attractive source of information.
  • Align yourself with messengers your audience already trusts. Examples include experts in the field or a well-liked member of the organization.
  • Cite your sources to connect your statements with objective facts and reality.
  • Use open body language that invites your audience to be part of the communication.

A mix of these strategies can build both implicit and explicit credibility. Establishing credibility and trust is essential for persuasion. If your audience perceives you as credible and trustworthy, they are more likely to be receptive to your message.

4. Prioritize objective evidence to support your points

Evidence plays a crucial role in persuasive communication, even though individuals may respond to it differently. When making complex arguments, citing relevant studies and data can strengthen your case and lend credibility to your message.

Evidence matters even in simple, everyday communication. You can use examples and shared experiences to support your points.

For instance, imagine you’re discussing a topic related to your company’s last annual meeting. In this case, you could ask your audience to recall specific aspects of that event. By evoking a common memory, you create a connection between your message and your audience’s firsthand experience. This makes your argument more relatable and persuasive.

5. Emphasize the benefits of actions

“What’s in it for me?” Sooner or later, you will ask the person persuading you this simple question. It’s why any successful approach to persuasion should include at least some consideration of the benefits on offer. Of course, what that looks like exactly depends entirely on the situation.

If you persuade your team to accomplish a task, help them understand how it will make their future work easier. For broader persuasion, like a resource ask, help decision-makers understand how the additional resources would help the organization and, ultimately, them.

Highlighting the benefits and advantages up for grabs can motivate your audience to follow your recommendations.

6. Adjust your message depending on the communication channel

Naturally, the communication channel you use can significantly impact your persuasion. Digital communication, for instance, requires a very different approach than verbal conversation. Meanwhile, verbal communication is different from an in-depth memo or whitepaper.

Keep the nuances of those channels in mind as you plan your approach. Adjust to your audience’s typical attention span for the channel in question. You should also consider the context of their use of that channel.

Even thinking about the channel’s interactivity and whether opportunities for immediate feedback exist is helpful. Adapting your persuasive approach to the specific communication channel is important for ensuring that your message’s delivery and reception are effective.

7. Lead by example

Leading by example is a powerful yet often underrated part of building persuasive communication skills. However, it goes a long way toward convincing your audience about the validity and importance of your ideas.

If you tell your team to do something, work alongside them. If an entire organizational approach needs to change, demonstrate how you are changing it. Once your audience sees you taking your own advice, your credibility will rise, and they will be more likely to adjust alongside you.

This approach can be highly effective in convincing others to adopt the desired course of action or way of thinking.

8. Continue practicing your persuasive communication skills

It helps to understand that no human communication is ever perfect. Even the best persuasive speakers or communicators still need ongoing practice to help perfect their skills over time.

Each time you intentionally seek to persuade your audience, evaluate your approach and messaging. Did you successfully capture their attention? What strategies were most successful?

This continuous improvement approach can ultimately go a long way toward helping you become a better communicator. The right tools can also help.

Consider a tool like Pip Decks. Designed as “recipe cards” for leaders, strategists, marketers, consultants, designers and educators, they are a visual way to improve your communication skills, including persuasion.

From storytelling to strategy, these decks can improve your skills in a natural, intuitive manner.

Find the right deck for your needs in your quest to improve your persuasion skills.

FAQs

What are the 4 types of persuasive communication?

Many communication studies base their research on Aristotle’s four basic types of persuasive communication.

  • Ethos focuses on credibility as a core means of persuasion.
  • Pathos focuses on persuasion based on your audience’s emotions.
  • Logos focuses on fact-based or “logical” persuasion.
  • Kairos focuses on timing. A well-timed message can be significantly more persuasive than its poorly-timed counterpart with the exact same content.

What are the advantages of persuasive communication?

The advantages of persuasive communication include:

  • its ability to influence the decisions and actions of those around you,
  • the ability to motivate your team to work toward your intended goal,
  • becoming a more effective leader or team member, and
  • a higher likelihood of accomplishing personal, professional and organizational goals.

What’s the main goal of persuasive communication?

You want to convince your audience that the opinion, viewpoint, belief, value or action you are trying to get across is valid. That’s the main goal of persuasive communication.

If successful, your audience will adopt your intended beliefs or values. Or, they will follow the action you have recommended. This might involve changing their current beliefs or actions or renewing their motivation to keep believing or doing what they were previously.


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