Persuasive Communication

One of the purposes of communication is to ensure that the receiver of the message understands it rightly, without misunderstanding and distortion of the meaning. The other, important purpose is to ensure the receiver believes in what the communicator expresses, the outcome of which is a change in the receiver’s behaviour as intended by the communicator. This is persuasive skill - one of the most important communication skills. Persuasion is a form of influence to change people’s behaviour, belief, or attitude.

Aristotle, the famous Greek philosopher gives three factors of persuasion – ethos, pathos and logos. Ethos has everything to do with the personality of the person who is persuading. People whom we respect, love, fear or admire are generally successful in persuading us. People tend to act and follow the advice of their spouse, parents, siblings, boss, mentor, teacher, doctor, lawyer, other experts etc. Also, one’s appearance, grooming and expertise enhances one’s personal appeal. Credibility also improves one’s persuasive skills as a credible person is respected and trusted. Pathos is influencing by playing or appealing to the emotions of people. By evoking the emotions like fear, patriotism, hate, love, envy, beliefs etc., people are persuaded. Advertisements selling fairness creams, insurance schemes, helmets and many other things do so by appealing to people’s emotions. Terrorists radicalise and motivate people to kill others by appealing to their hate. The third factor logos is all about using logic or rationale to convince people. Data and facts enable people to look at things objectively and influence decisions.

Therefore, there are many ways we can influence others but at the heart of all is ‘framing’. ‘Frame’ orients the receiver to examine the message with a certain inclination, like how framing a picture ensures that we focus on what lies within the frame. The best persuader is one who understands the values, fears, beliefs, strengths, and limitations of the other person and constructs the message to match them accordingly. It is also about understanding the expectations of the person and the context. Advertising is all about making potential customers look at products or services through a particular frame. Young men are more inclined to purchase a deodorant if it makes them irresistible to women than when it is positioned as inexpensive or cheap. You may wonder why your impressive presentation supported by logic and data did not help in persuading your boss to accept your proposal and not be aware that the boss has been advised by his spiritual guru to defer taking decisions. In the epic Ramayana, Kaikeyi evoked the promise made to her by her husband king Dasaratha when she saved his life. She was successful in sending Rama to the forest for fourteen years. Kaikeyi wanted her son Bharatha to be the king. She used the boon given to her by the king to have her way – an example of framing with emotions and logic.

Thus a deep understanding of the persuadee is key to good persuasion and effective communication. One can only persuade if one frames the proposal in such a way that it is in alignment with or matches the target’s needs, fears, concerns, values, beliefs and expectations.

By Vandana Madhavkumar