What Is Persuasion? A Quick Definition

Today we will be answering the question “what is persuasion?”


Persuasion is an action undertaken with the purpose of changing beliefs, attitudes, and behavior.

The action could be anything from texting, to speech, to a song, to artwork, or even a physical movement. Persuasion does not necessarily completely and totally change someone’s opinion or behavior. While this is possible, it doesn’t happen frequently. Most of the time persuasion prompts small incremental changes to the person’s behavior as they inch towards the thing that you want them to think. 

Persuasion itself is a process that involves listening, understanding, and then speaking. Speaking is often overemphasized. Just as important are the listing or understanding stages. If you don’t understand what people want, and you can’t answer the question “what’s in it for me,” people won’t listen to you. 

Some people are stubborn and won’t change no matter how well you understand persuasion.

If you don’t understand their situation you waste all of your effort trying to persuade somebody that either can’t, or won’t change. A good example of finding the right person to persuade is in sales. Salesmen repeatedly pick up the phone to find just one or two people who are ready to buy. Selecting the right type of person to persuade is just as important as the actual things that we say. 

Ethos, Pathos, Logos

It’s important to use the parts of persuasion that Aristotle taught thousands of years ago. Those include ethos, pathos, and logos. In other words you need to be credible, have strong arguments, and use emotion in your persuasion. We’ll talk more later in this series about how you can actually go about persuading, the tricks, the psychological tools, and the best ways to actually persuade people of different situations. 

The elements of persuasion were defined thousands of years ago by Aristotle.
The elements of persuasion were defined thousands of years ago by Aristotle.

Persuasion Vs Coercion

For now let’s differentiate persuasion from corrosion. Persuasion itself implies a voluntary change in the desire. Because of this persuasion usually involves a long-term change. On the other hand coercion is a forceful action that tends to bring about temporary compliance. Another important difference between persuasion and coercion is that coercion tends to make enemies, while persuasion tends to make allies.

An Example Of Persuasion

Aesop has a book of fables. One of the stories involves the wind, the sun, and a man with a jacket. The sun and the wind see a man coming along the road. They decide to have a competition. Who can make the man take off his jacket first? Whoever wins must be more powerful. 

The wind decides to go first. The wind blows. The man feels the wind’s pressure, grabs his coat, and instead of taking it off, he buttons a button. Then he buttons another button. Eventually the wind gives up and the sun takes its turn. The sun starts shining on the man. The man feels the rays of the sun, becomes hot, and takes off his jacket voluntarily. The sun wins.

Knowing the difference between persuasion and coercion can help you achieve your goals.
Knowing the difference between convincing and coercing can help you achieve your goals.

Of course there are a few different ways that you can interpret this short story but the obvious one is that force doesn’t always work. The key difference is that persuasion is often indirect. The wind directly tried to force or coerced the man to take his jacket off, while the sun created a situation where the temperature made the man want to take his jacket off. Indirectness makes people feel like they are in control. People who feel in control are more likely to be open to different views.

Thus the metaphorical buttoning of the jacket shows how people respond when faced with force. They double down. This is confirmation bias. Studies have actually shown that when people try to force others to change their opinion, the people actually reject the information. In fact, they end up believing their original opinion even more strongly. This is why we should try to use persuasion more than force.

That’s it for today. Next up is the question “is persuasion important?” We’ll catch you then.

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