Friday, July 15, 2011

Persuasion and Persuasive Speaking: Beginning of a series.

Persuasion is a significant part of what you will be doing in a business career.  However, the typical, formal “persuasion speech” with an introduction, thesis, arguments, evidence, and conclusion will probably not be the most common form of persuasion in which you will be engaged.  Most of your persuasive attempts will be in one-to-one conversations, in small groups, or in writing, and most of the time the recipients of the persuasion will not even know they are being persuaded.  In fact, you should be aware that many communication scholars claim that almost all communication encounters involve persuasion at some level.
        Does the term “persuasion” bother you?  Unfortunately, it does a lot of people.  They see it as synonymous with manipulation, unethical methods, deception, politicians’ unfulfilled promises, etc.  This is unfortunate and ultimately counterproductive because
1.    nothing would get done if  no one ever changed his or her viewpoint
2.    our system of free expression, self-governance, and yes, politics, is based on the need and right of citizens to express themselves because it’s part of our human natures and because it’s a peaceful method of solving difficulties.
3.    verbal persuasion is an historical human activity, with us since the ancient world
4.    persuasion is not inherently immoral; in fact, most attempts at persuasion are morally defensible
5.    failure to understand persuasion makes us more vulnerable to deceptive methods and less self-aware.

Some communication scholars deal with the negative connotation of persuasion by changing its name to “influence,” and in doing so they widen the meaning to include not only verbal arguments but peer and social pressure, nonverbal communication, and personal credibility.  Furthermore, persuasion is always about that method of changing people that basically respects their freedom of choice and works with that freedom.  In other words, it’s not coercion, torture, or “making someone an offer they can’t refuse.”

Therefore, for our purposes, I will use Richard M. Perloff’s definition of persuasion:  a symbolic process in which communicators try to convince other people to change their attitudes or behavior regarding an issue through the transmission of a message, in an atmosphere of free choice.  Symbolic means words and visual images that stand for something else.  Persuasion involves an attempt and therefore can fail.  Third, the persuasion doesn’t change the person; people change themselves. This is an important discovery of modern psychology that does not invalidate persuasion but adds another whole dimension to it.  Finally, the atmosphere is one of free choice.  A person may not recognize his or her freedom, but that does not take away the fact of the freedom.  And of course, it’s sometimes difficult to know the exact boundaries of freedom (Perloff, 2003, pps. 8-12).

The study of persuasion began in the 5th century B.C. in Italy.  Classical Greek scholars Aristotle and Plato in the 4th century B.C. set the debate about persuasion in place.  How are people persuaded?  What is the place of the audience in the persuasive process?  What are the ethical boundaries to persuasion?

This lecture will look at the human psychological characteristics that figure into persuasion, how to make yourself more persuasive in and outside of a presentation, and how to avoid deceptive practices as a persuader and a listener.

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