?People only understand things in terms of their own experience??If you try to get your ideas across to others without paying attention to what they have to say to you, you can forget about the whole thing.? ? Saul Alinsky.

In life almost everyone needs to convince others of something, and needs to do it often. When we communicate, we mostly want something to happen — whether it is to support an action, believe in/and or agree to something or change a behaviour.  What we want is result, and once we are cognisant of this, we are seeking effective communication.  In other words, effective communication can be measured by the feedback it gets.  It is not measured by how good our write-up is or how eloquently we speak, although these can assist us get the responses we are looking for as they help get the message across. In effect — although writing, speaking, and all those other creative activities matter — it is the responses that count in the end, and effectiveness means getting the responses we want.

Persuasive communication has been defined as a successful intentional effort aimed at influencing another?s mental state through communication in a circumstance in which the ?persuadee? has some measure of freedom. Persuasion is a communicative process of altering the beliefs, attitudes and intentions or behaviour of another by conscious and unconscious use of words and non-verbal behaviour. Persuasion can be used to change or neutralise hostile opinions, crystallise already existing positive opinions and positive attitudes, and conserve favourable opinions. The core purpose of persuasion is to get your audiences to support, believe and act in your favour.

In today?s business, the ability to persuade is very critical to business success.  On a daily basis managers of organisations need to convince employees to work toward company goals or to persuade colleagues or clients to consider ideas and suggestions. If the art of persuasion can be mastered, organisations can not only win the support of others, but also unify teams and encourage them to work together.

Successful businesses rely on persuasive messages in both internal and external communication. Whether it?s a marketing campaign i.e. encouraging potential customers to try your products, mergers, negotiation, behavioural change or even advancing one?s career — persuasion uses the same techniques. Successful businesses understand that persuasion is not about trickery or getting people to make choices that aren’t in their best interest; rather, it lets your audience know they have a choice and helps them choose to agree with you.

Principles of persuasive communication

While specific persuasive tactics will almost always vary from occasion to occasion, there are nevertheless general guidelines that will apply to a very large number of persuasion situations, both written and oral. Some of which are discussed below:

Know your audience

Knowledge of your audience?s features, such as beliefs, attitudes, concerns and lifestyle, is an important part of persuasion. Communicating persuasively and effectively means addressing the audience?s needs, values, and desires.  Knowledge of your audience allows you to tailor messages that are essential, answer a felt need, and provide a logical course of action.  Audiences respond favourably to persuasive communication when they feel the person speaking is similar to them in some way.  If you address what is important to them, they will see you as someone who is like them and understands them and will be more receptive to your message. Persuasive messages are very effective when they take into account the various characteristics of the audience.

Establish Credibility

Messages are more persuasive to the intended audience if the source is viewed as credible. To effectively persuade your audience, you must first show how credible you are. Audiences are usually more receptive to someone they view as an authority figure, whether that person has direct authority over them such as a boss, or if the person is an authority in his industry or profession. Credibility comes from expertise (whether the person is an expert/authority on the subject); sincerity (whether the person come across as believing/ being sincere); and charisma (whether the individual is attractive, self-assured, and articulate; projecting an image of competence and leadership). However, it does not mean one must have all three to be deemed as credible. Depending on the message and the audience, various spokespersons within an organisation can be used.

Appeal to self- interest

Inherent in the core principles of persuasion is the concept of ?self-interest?: it is easier to persuade an audience when you can show them how your proposal benefits them.  Audiences become involved in issues or pay attention to messages that appeal to their self-interest.  For example, if you are pitching an idea to a client, illustrate how using your idea will boost the company?s image and attract more customers.  Benjamin Franklin, a former president of the USA, put it succinctly when he said ?If you would persuade, you must appeal to interest rather than intellect.”

Clarity of message

Many messages fail because the audience finds the message unnecessarily complex in content or language. The most persuasive messages are direct, simply expressed, and contain only one primary idea.   Peter Drucker, a management expert, once said ?an innovation, to be effective, has to be simple and it has to be focused. It should do only one thing, otherwise it confuses.? This is true for the content of any message.

Audience participation

Audience involvement and participation in a process has a great chance of enhancing change in attitude or reinforcement. For example, an organisation may have employees discuss productivity in a quality-control circle. When workers are made part of the problem-solving process, they tend to come up with the same solution or even a better one.  The employees become more committed to making the solution work because it came from them, not as a policy or order handed down by higher management.  Companies can also distribute product samples so consumers can try them without expense.  A consumer who samples a product and makes a judgement about its quality is more likely to purchase it.

Taking Time to Listen

One of the most effective ways of persuading an audience is through engagement — i.e. getting feedback and acting upon such feedback. Often, communicators are so focused on achieving their communication goal that they just talk. They fail to take the time to listen. However, listening is critical. It can help to provide further insights into an audience’s interests, desires, concerns and motivations.

Connect emotionally with your audience

Although we like to think decision-makers use reason to make their decisions, we will always find emotions at play if we scratch below the surface. Good persuaders are aware of the primacy of emotions and are responsive to them in two important ways. Firstly, they show their own emotional commitment to the position they are advocating (without overdoing it, which would be counter-productive). Secondly, they have a strong and accurate sense of their audience?s emotional state, and they adjust their tone and the intensity of their arguments accordingly.

Use of body-language

The use of language is the principal means of persuasion. Persuasion, however, includes not only the spoken word but also body-language, facial expression, tone, and even silence. All are tools used in the communication process. With verbal communication, your demeanour influences your ability to persuade as much as your words do. For example, leaning forward in the seat as someone else is speaking could signal intense interest or aggressive attitude; on the other hand, leaning back could convey a calm and receptive listener or one disinterested.

Raising or lowering your voice, as well has emphasising or deemphasising different words can be interpreted in entirely different ways. If you fidget, you may be seen as weak or uncertain. If you rarely make eye-contact, they may think you’re hiding something. To sell your message to your audience, connect with them by maintaining eye-contact; project authority and confidence by standing up straight. Demonstrate your sincerity and openness by relaxing your arms and keeping them at your sides — unless you’re using them to gesture — instead of crossing them behind or in front of you.

Suggestion for action

One of the most effective principles of persuasion is that people endorse ideas when such ideas are accompanied by proposed action. What is it exactly that people are being asked to do? Yes, you want them to support you, but precisely how? Sure, you need their help — but in what particular way? Make your action request unambiguous and specific.

No matter how you choose to communicate, the key is to do so purposefully in all respects. Each of these principles may be effective in one case and not effective in another. It is important to learn to recognise when the use of one of these principles will assist you in the communication of a particular message. When these guidelines are used thoughtfully, your persuasive attempt is more likely to be successful.

By Albert Anani-Bossman

The writer is a Communication consultant

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