Powers of Persuasion

Last week, I wrote about conflict resolution in the workplace. Conflicts usually arise from a difference of opinions, which is common and normal. Another critical skill to learn for navigating these circumstances is persuasion. Being able to persuade others to see your perspective actually has a lot to do with seeing theirs. Empathy, along with credibility and reason, are some of the key elements of a strong persuasive argument. I’ll describe how you can use each of these pieces for a persuasive argument below.

Why Understanding Persuasion Matters

You probably interact with a wide range of stakeholders in your professional life. These are your clients, employees, users, and neighbors, among others. Your stakeholders may not agree with you, but they care about what your organization does. That’s why you need to find ways of seeing eye to eye. Persuasion is a major part of your communication toolbelt. Learning how to persuade will help you garner support from the people around you to solve problems together. You’ll turn obstacles into opportunities when you can persuade those around you to see your point of view.

The psychology of persuasion works with unconscious biases, much like cognitive heuristics used in decision making. People are just more likely to process information in some predictable ways, as this article explains. For instance, consider the attitudes people hold about various topics. You might think a certain food is delicious. Others find it disgusting. Someone else would say it’s fine, nothing special. Whereas your attitude about this food is strong, someone else’s is malleable. It’s unlikely that any amount of persuasion would change your mind. However, that person who’s just fine with this dish might be swayed to feel more strongly by good persuasive skills.

This video from HBR breaks down persuasion into five key components, identified millenia ago. Aristotle first listed them in his work Rhetoric. In this blog, I’ll focus on some of the factors he identified so you can start becoming more persuasive today.

Ethos: Building Trust

Your first priority in persuasion is to establish trust. Why should your audience even care what you have to say? To some extent, your credentials contribute to ethos. That might mean referencing your degree, how long you’ve worked in this field, or any awards you’ve received. That advice comes from the Forbes Young Entrepreneur Council. However, be careful. They also caution against seeming impersonal. You’ll want to include a personal story to show that you’re a real, relatable human. Otherwise, you just won’t be persuasive to your audience.

A lot of connecting with your audience depends on your communication skills. As we know, virtual meetings and remote work present distinct challenges for communication. It’s hard to know how to adapt advice about body language and eye contact on a screen. Fortunately, I’ve compiled a list of best practices for virtual communication. And remember, body language can still affect you, even if your audience doesn’t see it. Try power poses to build confidence. It can’t help but shine through in your presentation.

Logos: Making Sense

graphic text reading "words have power" on chalkboardOnce the audience trusts them, you’ve got to tell them what you’d like them to agree with you about. In other words, what are you persuading them to believe? This article with tips from the Young Entrepreneur Council has several good suggestions. First, start by stating your conclusion. This might seem counterintuitive. However, the point is to make sure people get your argument. So first, give the punch line.

Once you’ve given the conclusion, work back up to the beginning. Why should your audience care? Consider your stakeholders’ values and point out the ones you share. Make sure you explain why your position actually aligns with their needs. They probably won’t be willing to take your word for it. Logos is all about bringing facts to support your logic.

You might think there’s nothing more factual than a statistical analysis. After all, data-driven assessment is the bedrock for smart decision making. But think again. This HBR video explains how data visualizations carry bias. Consider how the choices you make about what data to show and how to display it tell your story. Check out the video for advice about making your data displays as honest and objective as possible.

Pathos: Persuasion of the Heart

Of course, cold logic won’t work without the heat of emotion. One tried and true way to bring up emotions in your audience is to work in a story. Research has found that when you’re feeling more emotional on a chemical level, you’re more easily persuaded. You might wonder, how do they measure that? It’s all about oxytocin. Turns out, people with more oxytocin in their bodies were more likely to donate to organizations after watching their PSAs. That means the emotional persuasion clicked for them enough to motivate action.

On a totally different but related note, there’s this study of workplace productivity. The researchers were curious about how to motivate productivity for workers doing tedious tasks. They tried incorporating gamification, which means they tried to make work more like a game. This meant introducing rules, consequences, rewards, etc. But they also tried another kind of gamification. In this case, the game centered on a made up character who needed the workers to succeed. When employees experienced the character-centered narrative, they got emotionally involved. These employees were most productive and cared most about their work. In other words, whether you’re trying to persuade a client or an employee, bring the human element. Make your persuasion tug on their heart strings a little.


Last but not least, there’s brevity. In the spirit of this idea, I won’t say too much about it. I’ll just point out this article about writing persuasive copy. You see, persuasion isn’t only in eloquent speeches or long, drawn-out meetings. It’s also in the little bits of text all over your organization. It’s the text that catches people’s attention and lets them know what you’re all about. The shorter and punchier, the better.

Besides, now that you understand persuasion, you won’t need to go on forever. You’ll throw in some ethos, logos, and pathos, keep it brief, and get persuading! I hope you’ve been persuaded by me in this blog that that’s all it will take.