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Psychology And the Art of Persuasion
Psychology, like any science, is concern with the rationality behind everyday phenomenon. In our modern society, the art of persuasion as become even more invasive into our lives. We often think of persuasion as negative, a tricky tool for convincing people to take actions that they do not desire. Advertisers and salesmen use various forms of persuasion to get consumers to buy their product. Yet persuasion is even more pervasive than most realize. Every dyadic relationship involves persuasion of some form. Spouses, parents, children, teachers, acquaintances all use persuasive tactics on each other. Psychologists are interested in learning the language of persuasion and reasoning behind it.
David Kipnis and Stuart Schmidt, two psychologists wrote an intriguing article entitled "The Language of Persuasion." It appeared in the April 1985 issue of Psychology Today, on pages 40-46. Kipnis and Schmidt are paraphrased in Reading 22, pages 206-210 in Part IV - Formulating Perspectives on the World, a section of a larger textbook. Kipnis and Schmidt investigate the different tactics people use to persuade in dyadic relationships and connect these the possible causes for their use in given situations. Their article is designed to increase persons' awareness of persuasion and offer rationales for why some tactics work better in different settings. This article is in contrast to many self-help books that expose the personal wisdom of dubiously appointed experts in that it is based in psychological study. Their study was conducted in traditionally Western lands: Great Britain, the United States, and Australia. Kipnis and Schmidt studied 195 dating or married couples and 360 first and second level managers. They questioned the 750 subjects on persuasive tactics they used to influence their partner or their workmates. The descriptions of such behavior given by the participants was then used to formulate a survey questionnaire given to other persons in the group to determine how often each person used the particular techniques being studied. Using statistical analysis methods, the researchers found a way to classify the techniques into three functional categories: Hard, soft and rational. Kipnis and Schmidt conclude that individuals who are successful persuaders use all three tactics as the situation demands. They also determined that the main influences on what tactic is appropriate are the persuaders objective, their relative power position and their preconceived expectations as to the response they will receive. Personal objectives call for soft tactics, formal objectives suggest rational tactic and difficult objectives require hard tactics. In power positions, persons with high relative power tend to use hard tactics, persons with low power use soft tactics and people of equal power use rational tactics. When expectations of success are high, soft tactics come into play but when they are low, hard tactics are more common. This gives some insight into the success or failure of persuasion in dyadic relationships by qualitatively assigning rationales and psychological reasoning to the seemly random choice of persuasive tactics.
Kipnis and Schmidt's study is very practical in its intents. By studying today's most important dyadic relationships, they made conclusions that can actually be used to change psychological behavior and correct difficulties in these relationships that might be causing undue psychological harm to the members of these relationships. For example, by highlighting what tactic works best in a situation by statistical analysis, Kipnis and Schmidt show how hard tactics are not usually the first choice by successful persuaders. Their linkage of hard tactics with high relative power, low self esteem, low expectations and social biases can help perspective persuaders be more aware of their use of hard tactics and more able to cope with the psychological conditions that are leading to these behaviors. This applies to abusive couples. Use of hard tactics by the controlling partner can be linked to the "Iron Law of Power" as described by Kipnis and Schmidt. The greater the perceived power distance between the dyadic communicators, the greater the probability hard tactics - forceful and demanding speech - will be applied. By teaching abusive couples to work together as equals, sharing responsibilities and decision making, the power discrepancy is removed and one partner cannot dominate the other. This also applies to abusive managers who use harsh communication to control their subordinates. If the relationship between the supervisor and the employees can be made less power distant, through a teamwork mentality and task oriented problem solving, the social power position of the manager will no longer lead him/her to use hard tactics toward employees.
Kipnis and Schmidt also give an explanation as to why some people always seem to get their way without raising their voice or explaining themselves to others. The researchers call this soft tactics. These soft tactics involve ingratiation - making the person feel positively towards yourself and your idea through politeness, praise and pleasantness. While it was found that persons in low relative power positions preferred soft tactics, it is also shown that persons in high power positions are also willing to use soft tactics on those with less power. The soft tactic approach in this case is one that carries the threat of rational or hard tactics if the soft tactic is unsuccessful. The high power person who uses soft tactics does so with the expectation that they will successfully persuade the low power person. If the soft tactic does not work, they are surprised and may move to rational or hard tactics. This can be seen in business relationships where the manager or boss kindly suggests something that is in reality a demand. This soft tactic persuades the subordinate to willingly perform the task. Since the manager expects even this hint to be obeyed, they do not feel the need to scream or argue. They can use soft tactics because of the high expectation of success.
There is another related practical application of this reasoning. Applying Kipnis and Schmidt's conclusion conversely when dealing with business people, a discerning person can instantly figure out the true power positions within a company by observing the persuasive tactics used by individuals. Whether one is beginning a new job or conducting business with a new organization, it is important to what the relative power positions are so that one can find the appropriate persuasive tactics for one's own use. Careful observance of the use of soft, rational or hard tactics in dyadic relationships can help you chose appropriate behavior patterns.
Expectation and bias do play a role in persuasion. While Kipnis and Schmidt do not suggest the "Power of Positive Thinking" has anything to do with it, they do provide a reasonable explanation as to how such mantras work. When one has expectations of successful persuasion, soft tactics are utilized. These tactics are most pleasing in dyadic relationships and may bring more successfully responses when used in a suitable fashion. There is also the problem of bias. If a person feels the listener will not respond well due to their race, gender or beliefs, hard tactics come into play that further damage the dyadic relationship. This may explain the difficulty managers have with employees who are "different" than the manager or the majority of the staff. The psychological cause of such success or failure is twofold. When the person feels they will succeed, they exhibit behaviors that will lead to success, i.e. soft tactics. The listener is made to feel positively toward the speaker and unwittingly shows more favor to their proposal. This works in all dyadic relationships as seen by the success of some self-help programs that exploit this principle.
Persuasion is pervasive. It touches every part of our lives and having an understanding as to how and why it works can help individuals make the right choices in persuasive situations. It also teaches us to understand the behaviors of people in power situations, and the effects on bias and expectation on persuasion.