The Art Of Persuasion

Art of persuasion not so simple #

People, see what they want to see, hear what they want to hear and believe what they want to believe, often in defiance of fact and logic.

Suasive arguments are not so much “Art” as craft; tricks to manipulate perception and ways of thinking. Persuasive arguments may not be so much artistic as crafty. We need to be on our guard not to be so easily duped or gulled by clever tricks. “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me”.

According to John Dickson, ‘‘Facts’’ alone rarely persuade us to change our minds on anything significant. In fact, they frequently entrench a contrary view. Psychologists call this the ‘‘backfire effect’’, where counter-evidence, far from changing our views, actually strengthens them.

Numerous studies underline how impervious to evidence our strongly held convictions are. Whether on political, religious or ethical issues, it seems our minds have an unusual power to reorganise contrary facts in order to support our beliefs.

The objectivity of moral facts, their universality, and their essential knowability by human beings can be obscured by ideology, propaganda, psychology and manipulation.

John le Carré writes:

“Secrecy keeps mistakes secret; secrecy is a disease. It causes a hardening of the arteries of the mind.”

Mindsets require a paradigm shift as W.H. Auden writes:

“enduring a belief whose logic brought them somewhere else to grief.”

In one of his television appearances Marshall McLuhan stated that

“the chances of understanding the meaning of our involvement in the present is very small. It is generally the artists who see what they are living in the present and we are always one step ahead (of technology)”. Unterecker, A reader’s guide to William Butler Yeats (New York, 1959 p. 27 )

Professor Marshall McLuhan observed,

“Ours is the first age in which many thousands of the best trained individual minds have made it a full-time business to get inside the collective public mind. To get inside in order to manipulate, exploit, control is the object now.”

According to Robert Thouless, there are many other dishonest logical tricks .

The Backfire Effect #

A study by Brendan Nyhan of the University of Michigan and Jason Reifler of Georgia State University concluded:

“Results indicate that corrections frequently fail to reduce misperceptions among the targeted ideological group. In several instances the ‘backfire effect’, corrections actually increase misperceptions among the group in question.

The backfire effect is a kind of self-protection mechanism. When you are confronted with data that threatens your convictions, your mind works overtime to defend you. It reorganises information and re-establishes arguments allowing you to continue believing what you already believed.

It seems that most of us do not let the facts get in the way of a strong belief; no one is immune to the buried power of self-deception and the backfire effect.

Gregg Elshof explores the ubiquitous nature of self-deception in public and private life, in secular and religious communities - or what he calls:

the amazing human capacity to break free from the constraints of rationality when truth ceases to be the primary goal of inquiry”.

“The Nudge”. #

Skilled legal minds with low standards of integrity are able to mould and manipulate public opinion, popular beliefs and, ultimately, the direction of arguments. The majority of the population in most places is not alert to this kind of deceptive manipulation. They are more or less defenceless against such clever ‘perception management’."

We don’t always do what’s best for ourselves, thanks to cognitive biases and errors that make us deviate from rational self-interest. The premise of Nudge is that subtly offsetting or exploiting these biases can help people to make better choices.

Logic #

Aristotle, more than 2350 years ago.argued in On Rhetoric that there are three controlling factors in persuasion.

Logos is the intellectual dimension. He said that as rational beings we like to know (or think) that our beliefs are grounded in reality. But logos alone does not move people to adopt new beliefs or behaviours.

Pathos, the emotional or psychological dimension, also plays a role. Beliefs are formed not only by rationalisation but also by “attraction”. Arguments we “like”, whether because they are presented beautifully or because they resonate with our hopes, will usually be more persuasive than ones we find unpleasant. I think this partly explains why, despite having some great minds in the cause, atheism continues to be an important minority viewpoint. Whatever its intellectual credentials, taken seriously it offers a very bleak outlook.

Ethos: Logos and pathos do not fully account for why we believe what we believe. Aristotle reserved a special place in his theory for what he called ethos, the social or ethical dimension. Not only do we tend to believe ideas we like, we also tend to accept the ideas of people we like.

We now call this the ‘‘sociology of knowledge’’ but Aristotle put his finger on it centuries ago: “We believe good-hearted people to a greater extent and more quickly than we do others on all subjects in general and completely so in cases where there is not exact knowledge.”

What counts in debate is a combination of intellectual, aesthetic and social factors. To be persuasive are not just more facts but a narrative that stirs our hearts and a social movement that wins our trust. John Dickson, 09/07/11 SMH Excerpts

Read more:

Ten tools for mastering the power of persuasion #

Want to become a more proficient persuader? Here are a few of the valuable tips Gyles Brandreth pocketed about the craft of coaxing, coercing, encouraging, cajoling, tempting, wooing and willing. Go forth and persuade!

1. Attract attention

As Benet Brandreth wisely points out, “you have to get the attention of the people that you are trying to persuade. It’s no good having the best argument in the world if no one’s listening.” Of course, there are good and bad ways to get attention: the above could mean spending money on a billboard in a prime location, deploying a loudhailer, or turning up at the next board meeting in an octopus costume.

2. Win trust Nick Brown is the Labour party Chief Whip. He explains how gaining trust is an important part of persuading party members to tow the line:

“The thing that works the best is to try to behave very fairly so that the MPs know that you’re on their side rather than prowling the corridors like a wolf.”

Jazz singer Claire Martin says trust is also the key to seducing an audience:

“Our intention is to try and engage some trust amongst us so I can take them on an emotional journey.” She will “try and be likeable” and make the audience think, “she knows what she’s doing.”

3. Know your audience

We are faced with brand advertising at every turn, but what makes us engage with a campaign? Tammy Einav, joint CEO of Adam & Eve DDB, says knowing the consumer is crucial:

“The emotional engagement comes from understanding our consumers and understanding what resonates with them” and “it is a combination of data and science that allows us to understand consumers better than ever before.”

Juliet Erickson, who helped persuade the International Olympics Association to award London the 2012 Olympics, loves the old adage “never pitch to strangers.” Although a crowd can seem like a blob, “it’s actually individuals who make decisions”. You need to know, understand and connect with each one of them.

4. Know when to use rational argument

Benet Brandreth agrees that knowing one’s audience is crucial. In some cases, rational, reasoned argument is the key to persuasion:

“The judge in a law court has to produce a written explanation of why they came to that conclusion and in those circumstances they’re going to look for rational argument as the underpinning for their conclusion.”

“It’s no good having the best argument in the world if no one’s listening.” Benet Brandreth QC

5. Know when to appeal to someone’s heart, rather than their head

The tools used to persuade a judge or a jury are not going to work, Benet says, “if you’re trying to persuade a mob.” In that instance, if you turn up and give “clear, factual and logical reasons” then “you’re gonna waste your time – a mob is going to be persuaded by questions of emotion”. So we need to know when to appeal to someone’s heart, rather than their head.

“In this age of conspiracy fuelled insanity — stoked incessantly by the death throes of Murdoch, Facebook’s callous obliviousness, And it’s also genuinely remarkable that the perception of what’s happening here is so counter to that reality — and it’s even more genuinely remarkable that that perception is based entirely on the self-interest of the same 300 or so odd dickheads.”

6. Clarify your argument

Juliet Erickson’s top tip to great persuasion is clarity: “That usually means before jumping to any particular conclusion make sure you understand it… probe for clarification.” Understanding an argument yourself means you can then make it clearly.

Benet Brandreth agrees. He says that, in a nutshell, the key to the success of the great persuaders in court is “to see with clarity what matters in a case.”

7. Use repetition and visibility

If people are exposed to a message enough, eventually they will absorb it. Tammy Einav states how, in advertising, “being present is key… It’s very difficult to persuade someone of something they’re not aware of or they don’t see.” And it’s not just about repetition, but also about being salient and finding a way to cut “through the clutter of everything else.”

8. Use the toolbox of rhetoric

The Roman Quintilian laid out five canons of rhetoric in his twelve-volume textbook Institutes of Oratory, which Benet Brandreth believes help when embarking on verbal persuasion. The first is “invention”, which is “about coming up with arguments; working out how to structure the thoughts and points that you want to make.” “Disposition” is ordering those arguments “in the way that will be most persuasive.”

The third point is “memory”: remembering the words you want to say, plus “building up a stock of stories, poems, quotes, ideas, facts that you can deploy”. The next point, “style”, is about how the words “can be used to influence people to create a certain emotional state or to convey that you, the speaker, have a particular emotional state”. Finally, “utterance” is “the performative aspect of rhetoric: where you put your hands, how you modulate your voice.”

Master these tricks of the trade and you’re more likely to persuade your audience.

9. Know when to shut up

Using the rhetorical toolbox is a large part of winning an argument but, as Juliet Erickson says, sometimes the key to persuasion is to “shut up” and listen. She says, “it’s very hard to just leave the space and watch it fill with whatever it fills itself with” but that “usually it fills itself with options.” If a strategy for persuasion isn’t working, then take a step back.

10. Never give up

Finally, be tenacious. Nick Brown (a man who knows a thing or two about coercing politicians into doing what he wants them to do) says, “the bottom line is, never give up.”

Propaganda #

Goebbels’ 14th Principle of Propagada, which reads:

Propaganda must label events and people with distinctive phrases or slogans.

Goebbels stressed the value of particular phrases to characterise events. These phrases “must make use of painting in black-and-white, since otherwise it cannot be convincing to people”. For example, to portray English unrest in 1942, he used the phrase ‘schleichende Krise’ [creeping crisis] as widely as possible in German propaganda”, both domestically and internationally.

We’ve been swamped by such phrases in the domestic immigration context over recent years; we have to “stop the boats”, we need “border protection”, we must repel the “illegals” and “unauthorised arrivals” so we can ensure “secure borders”. The Coalition government fear mongers about “losing control of our borders”, an audacious propagandistic translation of “letting refugees flee to safety”.

Casuistry #

Sophistry, also known as Eristic or Specious arguments; involve the use of subtle, sophisticated, and sometimes deceptive argument and reasoning, especially on moral issues, in order to justify something or to mislead.

Socrates considered the debate in such settings unedifying, pointless and unworthy—in a word, “eristic”. Eris was the Greek goddess of strife (the Roman Discordia). It was Eris who cunningly dropped a golden apple with the inscription “to the fairest” into a feast, inciting three goddesses—Hera, Athena and Aphrodite—to bicker over who deserved it and thus launching the ten-year Trojan War.

Eris is present in presidential debates, in court rooms and wherever people are talking not to discover truth but to win.

Socratic dialectic attempts a search of honest discussions that lead to truth

Socrates’s alternative was “good” conversation or dialectic. To converse originally meant to turn towards one another, in order to find a common humanity and to move closer to the truth of something. Dialectic, in other words, is decidedly not about winning or losing, because all the conversants are ennobled by it.

Even Socratic dialectic can be misused in an attempt to persuade.

Dogmatic assertion is the tyrant’s “stock in trade”, attempting to confer the air of authority and bully us into grudging silence, compliance and acceptance rather than inspiring confidence and belief in the judicial system.

It is the deceit of words and sleight of hand which may not involve any deliberate falsehood, but inferentially manipulates our perceptions, what Wittengenstein calls the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language and eristic argument.

British Science writer Richard Doyle claims language is a powerful lens for shaping reality that we frequently forget it is a tool at all and take it for reality.

As Karl Rove put it, about the Bush imperium in 2004, laying out the case for a new way of perceiving the universe,

“when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out.”

In this view, reality is expressly the realm of power, and the rest of us become hapless victims, reduced to wordless observers. Rove’s prescient words could have been an instruction manual for Donald Trump.

And in the face of this coming wave, it matters more than ever that we have ways of reconciling the experience of our lives with that of the larger world – a world in which we find false words are routinely used by power to deceive, dissemble and disempower. It matters that there might be a society where some are allowed the possibility of questioning, of not agreeing, of saying no, of proposing other worlds, of showing other lives.

Ad Hominem #

Character assassination, attacking your opponent rather than the issues, playing the opponent not the ball, ….

Finding dark motives is another stock-in-trade ploy of advocates attempting to smear their adversaries. It’s easy work. Slamming your opponent’s motives means you don’t have to grapple with facts; you don’t have to answer arguments; you don’t have to do any home work; and you can’t be disproved. In this environment, those taking a contrary (or even a more nuanced) view quickly become “damaged goods”, reputations are undermined and the information that informs judicial understanding diminished. It can become one of the clearest indicators that rather than being a disinterested arbiter, someone is an engaged participant in the arguments. Richard Flanagan

The unwarranted, unjustifiable, indefensible and irredeemably prejudicial attack on the applicant’s motives is also a prime example of “white is black” casuistry.

When powerful people in remarkable positions of strength use their authority not to discover the facts but to attack opponents, then we have a severe problem with the credibility of our institutions and the lack of oversight by government which should shoulder the responsibility.

Platitudes #

Empty meaningless phrases used by insincere people for ulterior purposes. Synonyms are: Blandishments – flatteries, cajoleries, praises, fulsome, effusive, insincere, disingenuous, rhetoric, oratory, banality, prosaicism, clichéd, bromides, cant, hollowed language, husk, shell,

Base words are uttered only by the base
And can for such at once be understood;
But noble platitudes — ah, there’s a case
Where the most careful scrutiny is needed
To tell a voice that’s genuinely good
From one that’s base but merely has succeeded
W.H. Auden, Collected Poems

“Words empty as the wind, are best left unsaid” Homer

Casting Spells #

Language can have some subliminal effect upon the listener, an almost hypnotic or haunting counterpart. We can be caught or mesmerized by the spell woven by the lulling descriptions, the direct colloquial narrative, the lilting rhythms, regular ‘rimes’, rich tapestry of images, symbols and the searing feelings of the narrator. Incantatory repetitions, alliteration and use of onomatopoeia can have a hypnotic, haunting effect on us. Many religions use these to cast a spell and suspend people’s reasoning processes.

Critics have for centuries debated the effect of repetitive sound patterns – predominantly, rhyme assonance and alliteration – upon our standard cognitive mechanisms.

No firm conclusions have been reached but by consensus it is accepted that they interfere with our ability to make sense of language. They create a layer of echoes that runs as a counter-current to the conventional relationship between phonetics and semantics, sound and meaning. A Definition of Poetry : the double pattern, Professor Richard Bradford, Professor of English, University of Ulster