Persuasion can make more of a difference than you expect

Persuasion, propaganda, coercion and brainwashing are tools that can make a difference.

By Russ Kratowicz

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Leaders communicate in a compelling manner when they’re trying to get funding for new technology, trying to promote predictive maintenance or merely trying to get the work team to act in some counterintuitive manner. Getting people to change their opinion and behavior is a useful skill in any corner of the grand arena we call maintenance. In fact, you might even find some of the tips we uncovered to be useful in your off hours, if you have any.

Persuasion, however, is only one of several effective ways to get people to go along with your plans, ideas and ambitions. Explaining how these skills work is the reason we took another dive into that morass we call the Web. This time, we’re in search of practical, zero-cost, noncommercial, registration-free Web resources that will help you get your way. Remember, we search the Web so you don't have to.

From academia
Persuasion is a learned skill that you can develop either by means of your own trial and error process repeated endlessly during a lifetime or by seeking out gurus who are willing to impart the necessary knowledge for a price. I’d vote that the latter method is more cost-effective in the long run, especially if you can get it right here in Plant Services, where Web-based knowledge comes to you free of charge. As an example of this largesse, I direct your attention to www.as.wvu.edu/~sbb/comm221/comm221.htm, the home page for Communications 221, a course taught by Steve Booth-Butterfield, adjunct professor at the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, West Virginia University. Features include a set of lecture notes he calls “Steve's Primer of Practical Persuasion and Influence,” course outlines called “Persuasion and Influence Notes” and “Publications and Presentations,” which are the results of his research. This is a good place to begin your journey in persuasion.

Make sense
Any argument you use, if it’s to be minimally persuasive, must make sense. Your logic must hold its own in the face of disputation that’s sure to arise before you finish making your first statement. If your audience won’t listen with a fully open mind, at least get them to leave the door slightly ajar. It’s critical that whatever reasoning you offer flows smoothly from major premise to conclusion, with nary a hiccup. Support this approach by investigating the offerings at the Purdue University Online Writing Lab. Start with “Argumentation/Persuasion: Logic in Argumentative Writing,” found at http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/general/gl_argpers.html. Here is guidance regarding using a logical vocabulary, reaching logical conclusions as well as avoiding fallacies and improprieties that can slam an open mind shut in a heartbeat.

The doorway to logic
Jonathan Davis is a British subject who spends a lot of time thinking about logic and persuasion and publishing his conclusions to the Web from his flat in London. At least, that’s a possible conclusion you’ll draw if you investigate his “Thinking Straight,” a portal that focuses on topics such as critical thinking, fallacies, propaganda, media literacy, coercive persuasion, statistics, brainwashing, skepticism, debunking, rhetoric and argumentation. Although he provides a staggering number of links to Web content, each is identified by a concise description of what you’ll find if you click on it. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think www.limbicnutrition.com/critical is going to take you more than a single lunch hour to explore properly.

Dismantling resistance
The Economist, a newspaper that espouses free trade and free markets in its anonymous, plain-language articles written from the perspective of the political center, also weighs in on the topic for the month. “Persuasion” discusses psychological research that indicates, no matter how hard you try, your resistance to persuasion is a variable. The article also says that one’s feelings of potential regret affect the effectiveness of the persuasion needed to move someone to the point of making a decision. In short, resistance can be manipulated. Keep that in mind when you try to pitch your next great idea. Convince your desk rodent to scoot over to www.economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=1109515, and you’ll be rewarded with the details.

The trouble with conformity
Charlan Nemeth and Jack Goncalo at the University of California, Berkeley, published a 29-page scholarly work that focuses on the dynamics of small groups of people who try to come to an agreement about an issue. “Influence and Persuasion in Small Groups” discusses the research and conclusions from a variety of studies to explore how people react to events. A common thread is the presence of a majority or minority opinion. Much of this material should prove valuable when you’re involved in a committee charged with making a difference. Learn how groups treat dissenters, regardless of the correctness of the dissent. People tend to conclude they’re wrong if their viewpoint runs contrary to that of the majority. That’s the problem with conformity -- it could be dead wrong. For example, consider the idea of groupthink as it applies to the Bay of Pigs and Watergate. Anyway, you can get the goods from http://repositories.cdlib.org/iir/iirwps/iirwps-102-04. You’ll find the graphic elements referenced in the text at the end of the document.

Fight the force
There’s more than a subtle difference between persuasion and coercion. Just ask anyone who has ever felt events pushing them in undesired, perhaps self-destructive, directions. David Straker at changingminds.org in Crowthorne, England, assures us that we can fight it. If you visit his Web site at http://changingminds.org/explanations/theories/coercion.htm, Mr. Straker will show you how to be sure it’s coercion you’re facing and give you four ways to get yourself out of the uncomfortable situation.

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