Persuasion is pervasive. As Simons (1986) observes, “The so-called people professions-politics, law, social work…advertising, sales, public relations, the ministry-might as well be called persuasion professions”. Apparently it functions as a pervasive force in virtually every aspect of human communication because communication competence involves acting in ways that are perceived as effective and appropriate by oneself and others (Kellermann, 1992). However it is hard to define with any certainty what is and is not “persuasion” (Gass & Seiter, 2011). So here I want to recommend a relatively exhaustive model of persuasion and share my understanding on this artistic communication form.
In the book PERSUASION, SOCIAL INFLUENCE, AND COMPLIANCE GAINING (Gass & Seiter, 2011) the authors offered the completed model of persuasion (See FIGURE 3) aimed to establish a relatively comprehensive definition of persuasion, which actually is based on three previous models about persuasion. The authors combined them step by step and arrived at the completed version.
The very first one is the preliminary model (See FIGURE 1), which is basically about pure versus borderline cases of persuasion. Pure one means clear-cut cases of persuasion, like a presidential debate or a TV commercial. Other instances are less clear-cut and they lie closer to the boundary or periphery of what people normally think of as persuasion. The dividing line between them is blurry, rather than distinct. This model made a general classification for persuasion and obviously it is just a start point.
A second consideration involves the limiting criteria that were selected from the various definition offered in the literature.
Bettinghaus and Cody (1994) adopt a source-centered view by focusing on the sender’s intent as a definition feature of persuasion. They stressed that “persuasion involves a conscious effort at influencing the thoughts or actions of a receiver”. As the motivation and beginning of persuasion, it plays an important role in the whole process, but after all, it is just a part and shouldn’t be overemphasized. For Gass and Seiter (2000, 2004), intentionality is the litmus test that distinguished persuasion from social influence, which makes more sense.
Daniel O’Keefe (1990) advocates a receiver-oriented definition of persuasion by restricting its use to situations in which receivers are somehow changed, altered, or affected. This one puts the persuasion outcome in such a high place thus two main problems emerged. Firstly, in reality a person can be engaged in persuasion even if it is an ineffective one as the process matters too. Then, it is too difficult, even impossible to measure persuasive effects.
3. Free Will and Conscious Awareness
Some authors endorse the opinion that there is a distinction between persuasion and coercion. This view is also receiver-oriented, but it emphasizes on whether a person notices that she or he is being persuaded and how much freedom the person has to accept or reject the message. Therefore, they think persuasion is noncoercive (Richard Perloff, 1993). But considerable influence attempts people encounter normally include both persuasive and coercive elements.
4. Symbolic Action.
A number of scholars suggest that persuasion begins and ends with symbolic expression, which includes language as well as other meaning-laden acts, such as civil disobedience and protest marches (Gerald Miller, 1980). This approach highlights the means, or channel, of persuasion as a limiting criterion, which narrowed persuasion down otherwise all human behavior could be construed as persuasion. Still it has the disadvantage that restricting the study of persuasion exclusively to symbolic expression leads to a fragmented understanding of the subject since many crucial aspects of persuasion can be found in nonverbal behavior, which lies on the periphery of symbolic action (Gass & Seiter, 2011).
5. Interpersonal Versus Intrapersonal
Some authors adopt the view that taking part in persuasion is like dancing the tango; it takes two (Bettinghaus & Cody, 1994; Johnston, 1994; Perloff, 1993). The best counterexample is self-persuasion, which is quite common.
By integrating the above five limiting criteria into the preliminary model, an enhanced model of persuasion (See FIGURE 2) was created. This expanded view of persuasion encompasses both pure and borderline cases of persuasion. Meanwhile the five limiting criteria and their opposites are all included.
At last, when put into the context background, the enhanced model finally achieved the completed version. The context in which persuasion occurs is significant because it determines the nature of the communication process. So it is necessary to examine the context when studying persuasion. Each contextual factors mentioned by the authors imposes its own specific set of constraints on persuasion, which is also supported by some other experts. Dillard (2004) endorses goals of participants. Ma and Chuang (2001) agree on sociocultural factors. Based on the completed model, the final definition was drawn and that is persuasion involves one or more persons who are engaged in the activity of creating, reinforcing, modifying, or extinguishing beliefs, attitudes, intentions, motivations, and/or behaviors within the constraints of a given communication context.
Following the above analysis, it will be very easy for you to understand persuasion is just a neutral communication tool and different from propaganda or brain wash. For me, it is more like some kind of chemical reaction happens in our minds, which could be very artistic and romantic.
So persuasion could be:
Now, let me offer my favorite example of persuasion (The best gift I ever survived) from TED, addressed by Stacey Kramer.
Within only three minutes, the persuader touched countless audience and taught them how to look at the bright side. Even today, it is still one of the best TED talks. Language strategy and visual image are the most exquisite techniques adopted by Stacey to achieve a good persuasion. For language, storytelling tongue is prime, which is indeed the most intimate and engaging way to communicate. For the image, its functions can be concluded as three key words and they are argument, reality and proof. Image1 brings the argument, a hidden gift. Image2, 3 and 4 show the awful reality and end all the guessing. What about the proof? When Stacey Kramer was standing on the stage and giving the speech, the stage scene itself became a striking image. It is the best proof of that a frightening experience can turn out to be a priceless gift.
From now on, once you see this image, you will think, think and remember she has told you in TED “the next time you’re faced with something that’s unexpected, unwanted and uncertain, consider that it just may be a gift.”
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