Persuasive Communication and Society

Published: 02nd September 2008
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The question before us: Is persuasion bad for society? It's an important question, because our world is witnessing an unprecedented onslaught of persuasive communication at every turn. Much of it is the creation of professional propagandists and marketing geniuses whose ethic is play for pay, and whose only boundary is 'whatever the market will bear.'



Some months ago, I read an article titled 'Art and Propaganda' in the online edition of The Nation, and found it to be insightful, challenging, and mildly persuasive, at least in part.



This is a excellent article, and well worth reading. Milton Glaser, a Fulbright scholar and one of America's most celebrated designers, wrote, ' The mind's ability to alter itself is the source of human freedom. Knowledge and information expand our ability to change our minds. Persuasion limits that capacity. Beliefs must be held lightly, because certainty is frequently the enemy of truth.' I've been thinking about this for awhile, and I can go along with much of what he said. But it all falls apart for me when it comes to one of his core ideas.



Glaser writes that 'Persuading us robs us of our ability to observe things for ourselves.' No, sorry, it (persuasion) does not. It can't do anything. It is but a tool, a method, a means to an end. It is amoral, meaning it can be used by anyone for any purpose, ethical or not. At best, the use of persuasive communication increases your odds of a successful outcome. But the use of persuasive communication comes with no guarantee. Persuasive skill is naught but a construct of human imagination and ingenuity applied to an outcome, and matched against the formidable and very human capacity to think, to question, to challenge and arrive at one's own conclusions, I don't think it stands a chance. Not even a little one.



The only thing that robs us of our ability to observe for ourselves is our failure to think for ourselves about information presented to us. And yes, that happens. When it does happen, when we are persuaded when we ought not to be, that's an opportunity to get feedback about how we think, and to learn how to think even better.



When information is presented non-persuasively, I suppose a case could be made that because it is not compelling, we don't have to think about it. The idea, I suppose, is that non-persuasive communication is easier on our busy and pitiful little minds. But that's just whack.



The real challenge of life in these modern times is to make note of the fact that compliance professionals (Cialdini's term) are running rampant up and down the threads of our cultural connections. So whenever communication takes place between people, whether it's a conversation, a meeting, a radio spot or television ad, the responsibility for our choices falls squarely where it belongs, on ourselves.



The use of persuasive communication has the goal of influencing attitudes. I find nothing inherently wrong with the idea of people seeking to influence each other. Indeed, I think that's how it should be, because an idea presented non- persuasively has little chance at influence, no matter its worth. So persuasive skill is a necessary tool for parents, managers, service providers and a whole host of others trying to make a positive difference.



Wise parents persuade their children to think for themselves, so they will be able to protect themselves from peer pressure and other coercive influences. Wise business owners persuade customers to use their system, product or service as it is intended, in order to build loyalty and prevent problems. And wise managers learn everything possible about what motivates employees and teams in order to engage, empower and employ the best those people have to offer.



A non-persuasive person can cripple an enterprise, sow the seeds of a revolt, throw sand in the gears of progress.



I think it a valuable endeavor for you to improve your persuasive skills, since without persuasive ability, you may have the solution to a problem yet the problem persists; the answer to a question, yet the question goes unanswered; a means to advance, but no progress is made.



Admittedly, people are all too often more emotional than thoughtful in their responses to the signals of persuasion. And so for this reason alone, when hope needs persuasion, without persuasion there can be no hope.





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'Dr. Rick Kirschner, speaker and coach, bestselling author. New book, 'Insider's Guide To The Art Of Persuasion.' Visit http://ThArtOfChange.com for links to the blog, podcast and complementary newsletter subscription. Visit http://LearnToPersuade.com to isten to a $49 value audio on Dealing With People You Can't Stand absolutely free!


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