The Art of Persuasion – The Complete Guide

What Is Persuasion 

Persuasion is a life skill which the best of leaders have mastered, and rising leaders are honing. Persuasion is important because we all need this particular skill. Many think of persuasion as a skill used by slick-haired used car salesmen, B2B businesses, product ambassadors, or telemarketers, and this is a correct assumption. However, this is where most people stop. 

Persuasion is so much more than a skill used by sales men and women. It’s a skill used by everybody every day. Often the difference is the level of skill development a person has reached. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re a…

  • Doctor
  • Lawyer
  • Civil Rights Advocate
  • Parent
  • Aunt/Uncle
  • Big sister/brother
  • Sports Coach
  • Blogger
  • Captain of the football team
  • Public speaker
  • Politician
  • Writer
  • Soldier
  • Soldier’s Spouse
  • Dog Trainer
  • Veterinarian
  • Clock Maker
  • Jeweler
  • Student (at any level)
  • Priest/Nun/Clergy/Pope
  • Unemployed

…Persuasion is key


To persuade someone is to win them over to a course of action by reasoning or inducement. Or, it’s to make someone to believe something (Websters New Riverside University Dictionary, 1984) by convincing, satisfying, or assuring them of the truth of your point of view by wining them over, bringing them around, or gaining their confidence (Funk & Wagnalls, 1993).

Persuasion is the ability to persuade. Not only is persuasion an art, but it’s also a life-skill. 

There is a difference

There is a difference between Persuasion and Manipulation or Power. 

To manipulate is to control in a devious sort of way. It’s to falsify or tamper with for personal gain (Websters New Riverside University Dictionary, 1984). Manipulation is unethical, and people tend to have a low tolerance for it. 

Your power is the strength or force you are capable of exerting onto others. In the case of personal power, it’s what you use to have the confidence and self-esteem you need to thrive and is a life skill. However, when power is exerted in the context of persuasion, or more clearly, when it’s confused with or replaces persuasion, it becomes an individual’s ability or official capacity to exercise control over others (Websters New Riverside University Dictionary, 1984). This confusion is most often seen when the concept of a leader is confused with the concept of a boss. 

Your boss has institutional authority over you and your actions. For some generations, like Baby Boomers and Gen-X this is often enough to garner their respect. However, for Millennials and Gen Z, a boss has to be legitimized as a leader with the give and take of mutual respect (The Art of Persuasion: Follow This System to Learn the Skills You Need to Persuade Effectively, 2015). Often, the institutional, legal, or real power and authority to manipulate a team or workforce, or force compliance is not enough to gain the respect of subordinates. 

On the contrary, for many, a boss who is not a legitimized leader will often have more difficulty in persuading their subordinates to complete their tasks or improve quality of delivered products or services if they do not respect the boss, institution, or governing body. 


Many times, the word influence is used synonymously with, or in conjunction with Persuasion. Sometimes, it’s called for. In one such case, influence and persuasion can be used separately when persuasion is meant to delineate a religious sect, physical characteristics, i.e. of the female persuasion, or a political faction or party and influence is meant to mark their power or ability to sway opinion or policy. 

However, in its definition as the ability to win someone over to a course of action or thought by reasoning or inducement (Websters New Riverside University Dictionary, 1984), influence is an important part of Persuasion. 


Developing polished persuasion skills does not mean learning how to be forceful, manipulative, or pushy. On the contrary. Persuasion requires influence without deploying maladaptive or unethical methods of delivering your point of view and convincing people that it has merit. 

A Doctor must have skills of persuasion to convince her patients to trust her professional opinions or diagnoses. Lawyers have to have persuasive skills in defense of their clients. The Captain or Coach of a sports teams must be able to motivate their team. Politicians have to persuade to obtain or remain in office. 

Dog trainers, while not only working with humans, must also command respect from, and be able to persuade canine companions to obey and learn new commands. Often, the oldest sibling in a set of 2 or more is required to teach their younger sibling(s) which lines to cross, which to avoid, deter bullies, and often teach their younger siblings what they’ve learned. This particular need for persuasion begins as soon as a sibling becomes a big sister or brother and does not end. 

To be a parent you have to convince your child to eat his broccoli, share her toys, or put their toys away. Not only do you have to remind them of their responsibilities, but you have to persuade them that certain things are the right thing to do, and some actions are unacceptable. As a spouse, you will have to, or currently do, navigate the ins and outs of disagreements present in all relationships. Every relationship, no matter the form, requires reconciling differing opinions, needs, wants, and skills. 

Bloggers, and writers have to constantly convince new clients, publications, or readers why their work is worth investing in. Students have to learn persuasion early on as they begin to get writing or research assignments from their teachers or learning institutions. 

The unemployed have to develop some skills in persuasion not only to get the resume noticed, but to get past the initial phone interviews, and actual interview or structure of interviews to get a job. Every step requires a different level and type of persuasion. 

Any leader must be able to persuade her team, constituency, subordinates, students, or team players to accept a certain action or set of actions or decisions; especially when those actions or decisions are controversial (The Art of Persuasion: Follow This System to Learn the Skills You Need to Persuade Effectively, 2015).  

The Basics

  • Style
  • Principle


Rhetoric is “the art of effective expression and the persuasive use of language” (Websters New Riverside University Dictionary, 1984). It is the art of persuasion. Parents, teachers, coaches, lawyers, doctors, oldest siblings, etc., all persuade using verbal language: Speaking. For some of these, this includes public speaking, for others, it’s one on one. Either way, the concept of Rhetoric applies across all factors and contexts of persuasion. 

Aristotle argued that there are 3 styles of rhetoric (Ethos, Pathos, & Logos- Modes of Persuasion (Aristotle). (n.d.). Retrieved from European Rhetoric:

  • Ethos
  • Logos
  • Pathos


Ethos refers to the character of the speaker. This is how well the speaker, presenter, coach, parent, teacher, or student is able to convince their audience that she’s qualified to speak on a particular subject. 

The speaker is you in any situation where you are trying to persuade someone of something. The person you are attempting to persuade is your audience. Your goal is credibility. The prerequisites for Ethos is competence, good intention, and empathy (Ethos, Pathos, & Logos- Modes of Persuasion (Aristotle), n.d.). Your audience will gauge your credibility by factors that include your clothing, vocabulary, inflection, body language, rank, educational accomplishments, or work background. 

Pathos refers to emotional influence. This style of rhetoric, or persuasion, can be delivered in the form of metaphors or passionate speech. Decision making is an emotional process, and we often make our decisions based on our emotions, so engaging the emotions of the audience is the goal here. 

Logos is the use of logic and reason. Even though decision making is emotionally motivated, use of logical data is important. This can include things like hard data, numbers, and historical facts. This type of content can be persuasive when used properly. 


According to Dr. Cialdini (Principles of Persuasion. Retrieved from Influence at Work: ref.), there are 6 primary principles of persuasion. Persuasion does not require using all six principles but understanding all of the tools at your disposal is helpful. Anytime you work to persuade someone of something, you’ll deploy at least one of these principles to do so. 

  • Reciprocity
  • Scarcity
  • Authority
  • Consistency
  • Liking
  • Consensus


Have you ever been in a situation where someone did you favor? This person could’ve been a friend, family member, co-worker, or boss. Did you later feel obligated to return that favor in some way? 

Most of us do. This is the basic concept of reciprocity. This “Non-Optional Social Convention” was best illustrated by Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon’s rant and conversation with Penny (The Big Bang Theory). 


Penny: Sheldon, I didn’t see your present (for Leonard).

Sheldon:  That’s because I didn’t bring one. 

Penny: Well, why not?

Howard: Don’t ask.

Sheldon: The entire institution of gift giving makes no sense. 

Hoard: Too late. 

Sheldon: Let’s say that I go out, and I spend $50 on you. It’s a laborious activity because I have to imagine what you need, whereas you know what you need. Now I could simplify things: Just give you the $50 directly and then you could give me $50 on my birthday and so on, until one of us dies leaving the other one old and $50 richer.

And I ask you, is it worth it. 

Penny: Well, Sheldon, you’re his friend. Friends give each other gifts.

Sheldon: I accept your premise. I reject your conclusion

In this one clip, the idea of reciprocity is explained by Sheldon explaining that giving a gift to a friend on his birthday (the “Non-optional social convention) implies another social obligation to the friend to return the gesture on your birthday. This applies across the field to favors, party invitations, hosting cook-outs, etc.

To leverage the power of reciprocity, however, you need to be the first to give the favor, gift, etc., it’s more powerful when it’s personalized. However, unlike Sheldon’s “Non-optional social convention” of gift giving on the birthday, the gift, or favor needs to also be unexpected. 


The fact of the matter is that we, as a species, want the things which we cannot have. I refer you to the history of the East India Company, the black market, and a failed war on drugs. We like things that are bad for us, and we really love things more when someone tells us we can’t have them- especially if we’ve had free access to it previously only to have it yanked away. 

One of the best examples of just how using the principle of scarcity is can best be shown by diamonds (Brolley, B. (n.d.). The Real Reason Why Your Diamonds Aren’t Valuable . Retrieved from The List: ref.). Diamonds are marketed as these beautiful, timeless, investments based on rarity.

In truth, diamonds are one of the most commonly available gemstones- just not so commonly available on the market. DeBeers obtained a monopoly of control over the release of their diamonds. Then they expertly marketed diamonds as “forever.” 

Through smart marketing, and creating an image of scarcity, diamonds have become a huge seller to newly, or about to be, engaged couples; long-time married couples for anniversary’s; and children and spouses of mothers for mother’s day. 

You can explain to your audience every benefit of buying into what you’re selling, or what you’re trying to persuade them of; it won’t be enough. When you try to convince someone of the honor and truth in your point of view, using the idea that there are benefits to your idea has a better chance of success if you can create an honest view of scarcity. 

Now, this isn’t to say that what DeBeers did was right or just. I was genius- no doubt about it. But it was dishonest. As a result, they’re beginning to lose credibility. Creating a sense of scarcity on false or fabricated data will ruin your credibility. So, you have to be able to illustrate what your audience, subordinates, team, co-workers, etc. have to lose by turning away from your persuasive attempts. 


In general, the people we respect the most, are not only charismatic but also knowledgeable. It’s important to us to know that the people we follow and allow to persuade us into action actually know what they’re talking about. The best measure of this is credibility and knowledgeable expertise. 

There is a line here, however, that has to be respected. We tend to shy away from and be turned off of people who walk around shouting their own accolades. We don’t care how smart an individual believes herself to be. We don’t care about the expertise Linda brags about having. We respect and respond to proof of knowledge, experience, and intelligence. 

This can be displayed in several ways. 

A physical display of credentials is usually helpful. If you have a degree, then display it. However, this only works until we see someone use their earned credentials as a justification for treating people badly. Then, we turn away from it. 

Have you ever wondered why speakers are introduced at business and educational events? I have. We respond better to people of knowledge and expertise when they are introduced to us as such by someone else. 


Keira is a millennial born at the front of the generational group. Her kid brother was born in the last year of the generational group. Both of them hold the concept of respect in such high esteem that they withhold it until it is properly earned. They’d grown up with an abusive step-father who stomped around like a child growling about his demand for respect, even though he’d never commanded it. 

A few years ago, Keira traveled nearly 2,000 miles home to watch her kid brother graduate college. She’d helped to put him through school so that he could some-day see his dream of being a story-board artist of the likes of Disney-Pixar or Fox realized. Even though Keira has ADHD she was able to sit through the entire 2-hour ceremony in Kansas City, hanging on every word of the ‘expert’ guest speaker who had been introduced by the dean of her kid brother’s school. By the end of the guest speaker’s presentation, she’d found someone she could respect.

In this example, Keira was able to control her biological urge to leave the auditorium until the good part, her brother walking, to listen to a long speech delivered by someone who’d been introduced by someone else as an expert to be respected. 


We humans like our consistency. Some of us like to lay down roots early in life. Many of us never leave the towns we were born in. And some of us have insatiable wanderlust. However, we all like consistency- even those of us who like to consistently wander. 

To best utilize the principle of consistency, you need to look for patters of “voluntary, active, and public” commitments (Principles of Persuasion. (2012, November 26). Retrieved from Influence at Work: ref.). 

For Example:

Sarah and John are looking for a new pet. They want a dog. However, Sarah doesn’t like the idea of purchasing a puppy from a breeder. She holds that doing so has several negative implications that she’s not comfortable ethically. Both Sarah and John have spent considerable time volunteering at the local SPCA shelter, and they’ve put off adopting a dog because they’ve always lived in an apartment. Now, they’ve bought a house and are stable enough to bring in the responsibility of an animal. 

Chloe is a high-risk Pitbull who’s just been processed for adoption. She’s a “high-risk” because when she was dropped off at the county pound she was immediately slotted for euthanasia. She had several mammary tumors on her undercarriage, and she had not been socialized with dogs. She was great with children, adults, small male dogs and cats- but not any female dog, or male dog that matched her size. Also, her coat was over 90% black, and 4 years old- both unfavorable traits to have for shelter dogs. 

When it finally comes time for Sarah and John to invite a dog into their home, it wasn’t hard for the adoptions coordinator to convince Sarah and John to take home that high-risk, 4 year old Pitbull because they’d spent so much time with shelter dogs, and pit-bulls who’d been abandoned and hurt. 

In this scenario, the adoptions coordinator does not try to manipulate Sarah and John into making a decision that is not in their best interest, nor does she put the need to find Chloe a home outside of the shelter over her relative comfort and safety. She merely manages to serve her interests, Chloe’s interests, and the interests of her audience- Sarah and John- by persuading them to make a decision they would live to be thankful for. 


When was the last time you agreed to do a favor for someone you don’t like?

When was the last time you accepted the argument of someone who was irate and in your face?

People prefer to be persuaded by people they like and respect. A team of co-workers are more likely to achieve a higher success rate and follow the lead of their boss if said boss is a true leader. Any leader can successfully persuade because she’ll have the respect of her employees. A sports team who respect their coach is more likely to perform at a higher level and cooperate during practice if the members of the team collectively respect the coach. This doesn’t mean that they deliver a façade of respect, but that they actually respect the coach or boss privately, individually, and collectively. 

Being liked goes a long way when you haven’t had the time to earn someone’s respect. When you’re trying to be persuasive, it helps to find similarities you share with your audience, and then find a way to deliver genuine compliments. 

Trying to give fake or general compliments won’t get you nearly as far as finding an area you can genuinely compliment, and which often gets overlooked by others. 


A consensus is reached when a collective opinion is formed (Websters New Riverside University Dictionary, 1984). When we don’t know how to react to a new or strange stimulus, we look to the people around us, and to the people whom we respect. 

A general idea of practice here is to find time to sit down with a sampling of your target audience to see how they will gauge your attempts at persuasion. Marketing companies do this with their group market research. Any time a new product is rolled out, a group of people meant to represent a healthy sample of the company or product’s target audience will be assembled, presented with the product or idea, and asked to render an opinion. 

The pros and cons that each member of the representative group is weighed by a production team, marketing team, designers, and the project manager to decide where changes can and should be made to the product and its marketing before its released for sale. 

By using this type of market research, companies are able to tailor their products, which they then have to persuade their customers to buy, to the consensus of their target market. 

Put It Into Action

Put into action, persuasion should always remain ethical. Unethical persuasion is tantamount to manipulation. Also, keep in mind that the act of persuasion itself is neither morally just nor ethically questionable. It’s what you use it for. 

During the dark ages, the Inquisition persuaded people to believe that witches and heretics deserved to burn at the stake. Hundreds of thousands of (mostly) women, and men were burned at the stake, hung, drowned, or pressed to death for being witches. 

Galileo Galilee, persecuted for positing that not only is the world round and not flat, but that the earth revolves around the sun rather than the, accepted, opposite that the sun revolved around the earth, was forced to feign persuasion to avoid the bonfire. 

Persuasion can occur by indoctrination. In this case, repetition is used. An audience or individual is repeatedly exposed to the opinion, product, or view that someone is trying to convince them to accept or buy. Repeated deliver of messages, rhetoric, or written material will eventually have an effect. Jim Jones best illustrated this when he manipulated several hundred members of the People’s Temple of the Disciples of Christ to commit suicide in Jonestown in Guyana. 

Propaganda is another dysfunctional form of manipulation often mistaken for persuasion. Propaganda carries a heavy emphasis on manipulation in an effort to alter the beliefs, attitudes, or actions of a group through misinformation and lies. 

When you put your persuasive skills into action, you may find that one style is more suited to your personality, and that not everyone will respond positively to it. That’s okay. This is a life skill that is sharpened and honed through experience and practice like any other. 

You’re also going to find that different principles of persuasion apply respectively to different situations. Scarcity isn’t going to work if it doesn’t apply, or if you have to falsify scarcity. Reciprocity works best when you initiated the “Non-Optional Social Convention,” and Liking works best when you’re faced with a group or audience who actually like and respect you. Also, keep in mind that liking and authority take time to build up. 

There are different forms of persuasion which members of your team, audience, or office may find to be fair or unfair, and they’ll respond accordingly. 

Using bullying as a tactic isn’t going to convince anyone to reach a consensus in the way you’re attempting to persuade them to. It will, however, convince your team that you’re a bully, and you’ll lose all credibility and chance for respect. Instead, try identifying which of your points of view, opinions or arguments may be acceptable to your team or audience, which ones will serve a public good, and which points of view are held neutrally between you and your team, audience, or subordinates. 

If your attempts at persuasion are part of a negotiation, you’ll need to know which concessions you can make, and which ones the folks you’re negotiating with are likely willing to accept. Also, remember, that effective persuasion only occurs after your team, audience, co-workers, or the people you may have negotiate with have made a decision. 

If you child won’t eat her broccoli, and you’re attempting to negotiate terms of her release from the dinner table, keep in mind that she has a wide range of emotional responses to defer to: Crying, tantrums, being sweet, begging, etc. You can only use a Yes or No response. Sometimes, in situations like this, because she has to make the decision to eat the broccoli, and decisions are usually emotionally base, you might try appealing to her emotions. 

Bribery is often effective in the short-term, though it may lead to unwanted consequences later. Sure, you can bribe little Suzie with ice-cream today if she eats her broccoli, but do you really want her deferring to that sort of black mail every time she must do something she doesn’t want to do as she grows up? 

Anytime you’re working to achieve persuasion of an audience, child, or team, no matter the style and principle you apply, remember that to be effective you have to:

  • Establish credibility
  • Find Common ground
  • Provide Evidence
  • Connect Emotionally

Establishing credibility and the Authority principle are different here. Not only do you need authority on the subject matter you’re dealing with, but to be persuasive, you have to establish that your authority is credible. 

Yes, we respond to Liking and Consensus because social acceptance is important to us. However, as the one responsible for persuading your team to work or practice late, or accept your opinions or views, it’s on you to find common ground that you and your audience or team can work from

No argument gets very far without providing evidence. Aristotle had that one right on the money because hard evidence, delivered in a way that stirs emotions is the most effective tool you’re going to have when you’re trying to establish authority. 

Connecting emotionally can be achieved through reciprocity, but if that particular principle doesn’t apply to your situation, then connecting emotionally can be achieved by other means: Using anecdotes, getting your audience to laugh, or pulling on their heart strings are always good places to start from. Bear in mind that logos always works better when those cold hard facts are tied to something your audience relates to on personal and emotional levels. 

Finally, persuasion is neither positive nor negative, good nor evil, it simply is a tool in your life skill repertoire that you’ll need as you move on in life. Keeping your persuasions honest, and positive, not only proves your integrity, but it leaves more room for your subordinates, team members, or family to respect you- which makes persuasion easier on you in the long run. Honest persuasion is an art form, and developing it pays off in the long run. 

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