The surprising truth about persuasion

The surprising truth about persuasion

Persuasion, the act of getting people to see things our way, is not only a useful skill in our personal lives but a key driver in our professional and/or business dealings as well.

Whenever you try to create change; to inspire action, navigate conflict or lead a community towards a worthy cause, you’ll need to be able to persuade them in one way or another, to get them to believe in you or your ideas.

This is easier said than done, however, because we all tend to hold on to our beliefs a little too closely. Once we have formed an opinion about something, through our own personal experience or otherwise, it becomes a part of our identity. Anyone who questions that particular belief is seen as questioning our intelligence, and it becomes difficult to separate who we are from what we believe, making us prone to defensiveness and stubbornness in the face of opposing beliefs.

This means that persuasion, getting people to abandon one set of beliefs in favor of another, is a much more delicate endeavor than it appears to be. We run the risk of offending others or frustrating ourselves in the process, no matter how good our intentions might be.

Books have been written, experiments have been conducted, research has been carried out and it has often come down to the fact that persuasion is more closely hinged to our emotions than cold, hard, facts.

We are more receptive to new ideas if we are emotionally involved in some way, and it doesn’t matter if we’re negatively impacted and afraid, or positively engaged and inspired.

“Some studies talk about the fact that you need both logic and emotion but not at the same time. In other words, you have to choose the best one for your situation. Other studies show that emotions are clearly more persuasive than logic. One study even showed that 90% of decisions are made based on emotion but that people essentially use logic to go back and justify their decision.

Not to be outdone, some cognitive psychologists refer to studies where rational arguments did actually change people’s minds even with our inherent bias towards disregarding data we don’t think supports our own point of view (research shows that we actually do this). In that research, the psychologists showed that logic worked only if people had high involvement or were motivated to deliberate on the issue. In normal language, it means that it impacted them directly.”

So even when we try to put the facts first, even when we gravitate towards reason, we’re inclined to make it personal, to reach within us for the ways in which these facts are bound to affect our lives, before we can pay attention to the numbers.

One study went so far as to demonstrate that patients who are medically unable to access their emotions also struggle to make decisions, effectively proving how instrumental feelings are for persuasion.

Facts and logic are important but feelings and emotions will either open us up to these facts and make us receptive or put us on the defensive depending on who the other party is and how they present themselves to us.

In trying to persuade others, we need to remember that emotions are also important and instead of trying to eliminate or explain them away, we would have more success if we accommodated them or better yet, appealed to them and used them as a gateway into arousing interest, holding attention and then when the recipient is ready, examining the facts with regard to how they are currently feeling, or how they would like to feel in the future.


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