An Act of Persuasion – Part I

Act of Persuasion

I love the film Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. A few weeks ago, it was aired for the first time on the Television screen. Naturally I saw it!

In the film there is this particular scene where almost the entire regiment was trying to persuade Milkha Singh to go to Pakistan to take part in the Indo-Pak track games of 1960. Milkha however was afraid of going back since at the time of partition his family had died in a village in Pakistan. When Milkha refused, the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru persuaded him to go and he couldn’t say no to him. The outcome of going to Pakistan was that he went to his home village, met his old friend, and got the burden of their death out of his head. He also raced and won the event and got the title of The Flying Sikh by the Pakistan General Ayub Khan.

The question that came to me was, however reluctant Milkha was for going to Pakistan, the persuasion did work for good of both Milkha and also for the entire country. In other words, persuasion did lead to a positive outcome. Put a question mark on my skepticism on the whole idea of persuasion!

This led me to thinking more about persuasion from a psychological point of view and trying to understand the depths of the act of persuasion. After all we persuade each other all the time! Let us explore about the act of persuasion, when and why we persuade others and how to identify if you are being persuaded in your favor.

But first, what is the difference between persuasion and manipulation? Manipulation is the way to get someone to do something that is not in their own interest. Persuasion on the other hand, is the art of getting people do things that are in their own interest that also benefit you.

Thus, persuasion is when your friends are convincing you to go for that latest movie or for a long drive in the night, or when your parents trying to convince you to take engineering as a subject. Ah the good old days!

With this difference clear, let us deep dive into the Act of Persuasion.

Why Persuasion?

Why do we persuade people? Why do we convince them to do something? Further, is persuasion a bad thing?

Many times in our personal lives, we end up getting in a situation where we have to convince our closed ones, say friends, loved ones or family to go out for dinner together, or for a holiday with them, or just for a drive. There are be countless other occasions. In all such situations, when we want them to come with us and they don’t agree to our request, the other method of getting them come with us or do what we want is Persuasion!

Good salespeople do it all the time. Effective selling is another form of persuasion. In a lot of cases, persuasion is required because of fear. Consider what happened in case of Milkha Singh. He was fearful of what will happen if he went to Pakistan. Or, think of your friend persuading you to leave your job and start your business because you are scared to do so.

Is it bad to persuade someone to do something? Not necessarily. If the persuader believes that the outcome is in favor of both the people, it isn’t. Again consider the above example of Milkha Singh. It turned out for the good both for him as well of India as a country!

It All Begins with the End

Every persuasion has a goal. Without a goal, no persuasion is possible.

Think of the salesman trying to persuade you to buy something, or your family members persuading you to attend a wedding, a wife persuading the husband for a dinner outside or a politician persuading the people to take a particular action.

Every persuasion has a goal. Further, the clear the goal is in the mind of the persuader, the better she/he will be able to persuade.

The Persuasion Scale

With the goal in mind, the persuader begins the act of persuasion with two weapons at hand. These two weapons are Logic and Emotion.

Imagine Raghu, a college student who wants to go for the new film, The Dark Knight with a friend, Manik. The problem is Manik does not want to go for the film.

Logic and Emotion

a. Logic is the reasoning side of the persuasion process. This is what Raghu would say to convince Manik via logic. “Bhai Batman movie hai. Part II of the series. Christian Bale actor hai, director Christopher Nolan, haan wahi Prestige wala. IMDB 9.0… Isko nahin dekha to life barbaad hai!” (Bro, it’s a Batman film, part II of the series, 9.0 on the IMDB charts. Christian Bale is the actor. You know who the Director is? Christopher Nolan, yeah the same guy who directed Prestige. Our life isn’t worth it if we don’t see a film like this!).

This is the reasoning side of the persuasion where the persuader is informing the logical benefits of the idea, product or service.

b. Emotion is the feeling side of the persuasion process. With emotional side, this is what the same friend might say, “Abey tu soch.. saam ko niklenge.. Butter Chicken khaenge pahle, yaad hai na Rajendra dhaba ka tasty Butter Chicken! Uske baad chalenge late night show dekhne. Hall mein movie enjoy karke raat ko niklenge long drive pe Karnal highway. Subah Murthal mein parathe kha ke 6 baje tak wapas. Awesome night out ho gaya bhai!” (Bro, think about it. We’ll leave in the evening. First we’ll go and have delicious Butter Chicken from Rajendra Dhaba. Remember Rajendra Dhaba?! Then we’ll watch the late night show of this awesome movie. Afterwards, in the night we’ll go for a long drive on the Karnal highway. We’ll have tasty parathas at Murthal early morning and come back by 6. Imagine, we’ll watch the movie also and will have an awesome night out too!)

Logic and Emotion, the the two key weapons in the hands of a persuader. Depending on the person and the situation, a Logic-Emotion Persuasion Scale can be built.

Act of Persuasion Scale

The two ends of the Persuasion Scale are Pure Logic and Pure Emotion. On the extreme left, the Act of Persuasion takes place purely on the basis of Logic. On the extreme right, it takes place purely on the basis of Emotion.

It is hard to convince someone to do something purely based on logical reasoning. Similarly, it may not be that easy to convince someone to do something purely based on an emotional feeling either.

In most cases, depending on the person and the context of persuasion, an Optimum Mix of Logic and Emotion is required to persuade someone to do something. Look at the above example of Raghu convincing Manik for a movie. He took out the logical side by showcasing the good things about the film. He then also took out the emotional side by bringing out a picture of the entire evening and how Manik would feel when they go. If he knows Manik well, he will also know how much Manik loves or hates Batman series and hence, depending on the interests of Manik, Raghu would decide on the Optimum Mix of Logic and Emotion to convince Manik for the movie.

Optimally combining the two weapons of logic and emotion a persuader can persuade almost anyone to do something they want them to do. Think of the famous political speeches, the right mix of logic and emotion to persuade the masses to follow the political leader.

Factors Affecting the Act of Persuasion

More or less all acts of persuasion involve the persuader juggling through some specific aspects of the subject. So much that they can be generalized into five key factors that affect the persuasion process.

Note: For explaining these factors, I am using the word ‘persuadee’ to mean a person who is persuaded by someone to do something. This word exists at some places but not in any major modern day dictionaries of the internet world (I wonder why!).

Persuadee (noun): a person who is persuaded by someone to do something.

The five factors of the persuasion process:

  1. The persuadee is not happy with the present situation
    1. The Act of Persuasion becomes a lot easier if the persuader knows that the persuadee is not happy with the present situation. A lot of management books say this as figuring out the needs of the customers or to ‘hit where it hurts’. If Raghu knows that Manik wants to watch a movie instead of staying at home, it will be much easier for him to convince Manik to come for this particular one. If I know that you are not happy with your current job, it will be easier for me to convince you to quit and start your business.
  2. Persuader’s belief that persuadee will be happy with the proposed situation
    1. A lot of times, the confidence with which persuader speaks reflects her belief in the proposed situation. Think of a friend convincing you to go to Manali for a weekend getaway. The conviction with which she speaks will reflect that she believes that going to Manali is the best option both for you and for her.
  3. Persuader’s position of authority in the subject
    1. At times, when the persuader is in a position of authority, like Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in the above story, the act of persuasion becomes simpler. Similarly if an Industry expert is convincing you to buy a stock, you are likely to go with the purchase simply because he is an expert with years of experience.
  4. Persuadee’s skill set & knowledge towards the subject
    1. A lot of times, the Act of Persuasion also includes Persuadee’s skills and knowledge towards the subject for which he is being persuaded. For example, if I am convincing you to leave your job to do a business, one of the points I will touch is your knowledge and expertise in running that successful business. This adds the necessary fuel in the mind of the persuadee towards taking the desired action.
  5. Persuader’s selfish interest
    1. By virtue of having a goal for the Act of Persuasion, the persuader always has a self interest at heart. This is a necessary condition. If the persuader is really interested in the outcome, or if the persuader’s self interest in the act of persuasion is very high, she may push you hard towards the desired outcome.

These are the five key factors affecting any persuasion process. If you want to persuade someone to do something, say, a friend to go for a road trip to Kasol, make a note of the above five factors, depending on the person and the situation, combine the Optimum Mix of Logic and Emotion and begin the act of persuasion!

Think-it-over: Have you ever convinced someone to do something? How easy or difficult was it when you did the first time? What about the second, the third and subsequent times? The Act of Persuasion, like everything else needs awareness of the other person’s needs and desires and an understanding of one’s own purpose! With time and with practice, one keeps getting better and better at it.

On the other hand, have you ever been convinced by another person to do something? If you’re human, chances are you have been! In Part II, we’ll look at the Act of Persuasion from the side of the Persuadee and some points to understand and reflect on if someone is persuading you do so something.

Until then, as an experiment, try to convince someone in your family for the upcoming Salman Khan movie based on the above factors and see how it turns out! 😉

Continue reading the concluding Part II of the Act of Persuasion.