When is persuasion positive?

What do you think when hearing the word ‘persuasion’? Do you think of the advertisement promising you a slimmer waist or perhaps the politician urging you to vote for him in the elections with promises that will ease your life? Politicians, advocates, negotiators and marketing departments all use persuasion as one resource upon which they would use to convince people for a due course of action. We know this and it is kind of accepted – we allow them to persuade us. Occasionally, we also experience persuasion from people close to us. Perhaps acceptable to a certain extent but it depends on how and what the act of persuasion consist of. 

Sometimes we resort to persuasion at a personal level in order to convince family, friends or colleagues to see an issue our way or to make people act in line with what we want. This being said, what we want is not the same as what is right. Persuasion can easily turn into manipulation if one triggers the wrong type of arguments. If playing on another person’s anxiety or fears to craft a message that in the end is meant to persuade a person to do what you want, it makes persuasion negative. It signalises negative consequences if “advised” course of action is not taken and therefore reminds us more of threatening than actual advising. When attempts to persuade someone are based on threats it is even worse. In other words, persuasion can be as negative as it can be positive.  

In many cases we allow ourselves to be persuaded by salesmen or marketing agencies simply because we want to. We want to believe that using anti-age cream, diet pills or anti-cellulite products will give us the promised results. In the same way we choose to believe news and statistics about issues that convey opinions close to our own, especially if presented by people we have faith in – even when done in a persuasive manner. We allow ourselves to be convinced to buy things that allegedly will improve aspects of our lives. For the same reasons we vote for a particular candidate because we want to believe what they promise. However, most of us have a problem accepting when someone puts us on a guilt trip because we hesitate doing what (s) he wants. We feel used and it gives us an uncomfortable feeling. 

Negative persuasion can take the form of threats and if combined with emotional trigger points it can make us feel manipulated. However, persuasion is in reality more a matter of personal character than anything else. Persuasion is also an important leadership skill. Aristotle’s once said “Character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion” making (personal) ethics the means through which one would be persuaded. An example would be integrity. In other words, character and consistency brings more power to any word spoken. To live as one speaks will not persuade others to do what you want but to influence them to something they need and perhaps something they want. Persuasion is in this genuinely an ethical and positive matter. 

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