When I was young and free and my imagination had no limits, I dreamed of changing the world. As I grew older and wiser, I discovered the world would not change, so I shortened my sights somewhat and decided to change only my country. But it, too, seemed immovable. As I grew into my twilight years, in one last desperate attempt, I settled for changing only my family, those closest to me, but alas, they would have none of it. And now, as I lie on my deathbed, I suddenly realize: If I had only changed myself first, then by example I would have changed my family. From their inspiration and encouragement, I would then have been able to better my country, and who knows, I may have even changed the world.
Inscribed on the tomb of an Anglican Bishop in Westminster Abby (1100 A.D.)
Sometimes setting an example is an effective means of persuasion. A housemate of mine was telling me that she quit smoking thanks to her boyfriend. I asked her how he convinced her to do that and she told me that he never gave her a hard time about smoking although he clearly didn't approve of smoking. She said he set an example by not smoking himself.
Making a suggestion instead of giving an order is more likely to persuade someone. People resent getting orders. In fact one can ask the person what they think about our suggestion to further make it like a suggestion and less like an order.
Asking a favor is also better than giving an order. When asked to do something as a favor people know the favor may someday be returned and they also know that they are improving their relations with the person asking the favor.
A girl I know is having trouble persuading her macho boyfriend to quit smoking. He feels she is ordering him around and doesn't believe in taking orders from a girl. I suggested to her that she could use his macho feelings to her advantage by telling him that she knows that he has the strength of will to quit. I also suggested to her that she ask him in an affectionate way by saying that she is very concerned about his health and so wants him to quit.
There is a saying:
Where one stands depends on where one sits.
which can give us a clue on persuading people. A great example of the veracity of this statement was given by Eric Fettmann, in his column to the New York Post 10/10/02. He wrote about how when Clinton was about to be impeached Clinton advocated attacking Iraq and how Democrats spoke out in support of his plans but now that Bush is president they disagree with his plan to attack Iraq. Here is a comparison of what they said during the Clinton and Bush administrations.
|Democrat||While Clinton was President||During Bush's Presidency|
|Senator John Kerry (Massachusetts)||Saddam Hussein's objective is to maintain a program of weapons of mass destruction. It is important to hold him accountable by force. No one will question that it is Mr. Hussein who has precipitated this confrontation and no one else.||Kerry warned ominously that the president has failed to answer "the question to Mom and Pop in America as to why their young child may come home in a body bag"|
|Senator Ted Kennedy (Massachusetts)||Saddam's refusal to cooperate with U.N. arms inspectors must be met with a firm response. I strongly support the president's actions||Kennedy described Bush's plans as "Unilateralism run amok".|
|Senator Tom Daschle and Rep. Dick Gephardt||Senator Tom Daschle and Rep. Dick Gephardt issued a joint statement hailing Clinton's "correct decision to undertake military action against Iraq at this time. Indeed, they added "Any delay would have given Saddam Hussein time to reconstitute his arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.||Daschle has been very vocal in voicing concerns about Bush's plans.|
The message here is that if we can change where someone sits we may be able to change their opinion. If we can create incentives for them to agree with us or point out to them reasons why it is in their interest to do so they may change their minds. Money is one of the greatest incentives. Steve Emerson wrote a book called the American House of Saud in which he demonstrated how greed for Saudi oil money bent the opinions of Americans in against Israel and against their own principles. One of many examples he gave was of John West formerly a governor of South Carolina. When he was governor he opposed the death penalty even though there was widespread support for it in his state. Years later when he had already become corrupted by Arab oil money PBS put together a documentary called Death of a Princess which was a true story about a Saudi princess who fell in love with a commoner and didn't want to marry the husband chosen for her by her family. Steve Emerson wrote:
The same man who as governor had so courageously vetoed the proposed South Carolina death penalty as a “barbaric, savage concept of vengeance which should not be accepted, condoned, or permitted in a civilized society” now fiercely defended the Saudi regime that had shot a nineteen year old princess and beheaded her lover for committing adultery.
The total transformation of the Honorable John C West serves as testimony to the irresistible allure of the Petrodollar…
I once heard a negotiating expert say how the biggest mistake people make is just thinking about what they want and not about what the other person wants. If one can make a deal which is to the mutual benefit of both parties one is likely to succeed in one's negotiation. In my experience deal making is one of the must effective ways to persuade someone to do what you want them to do. It may not be necessary to make a deal if one can show the other person how it is to their advantage to do what one wants them to do.
If one wishes to persuade people to buy a product it is important to convince them that they they are winning by doing so. A realtor who sold me a house once told me that he learned that selling has to be a win-win-win situation. The seller has to win, the salesman has to win and the buyer has to win.
Is that true or do they just have to think they are winning? For one particular sale they just have to think they are winning but eventually they'll find out if they were tricked and that is likely to be bad for the realtor. My realtor told me he depended on people like me giving him referrals. That's not going to happen if I think he's a swindler. There were times he would show me a house, look through it, point out to me all the problems with it and tell me not to buy it. On the surface it might appear that it's against the interest of the realtor to tell me not to buy a house. He makes money if I buy it. The truth is though that in the long run he is better off selling me a good house. Then I'll recommend it to other people. The fact that he told me not to buy certain houses impressed me and made me more likely to listen to him when he recommended a house.
The principle of win-win situations applies to all kinds of persuasion. If one can find out what the other person would consider a win for them and give it to them in such a way that one is also winning then the other person is likely to agree to what one wants.
The simplest kind of persuasion is to create a situation where if the person engages in the behavior one wants that person is rewarded and if the person does not, that person is punished. Although punishment is sometimes necessary it can lead to resentment and rebellion. Threatening people in order to get them to do what you want is also a risky approach. I once hired an attorney who tried to negotiate a settlement for me in lieu of suing. Even she was very careful not to be too threatening in her letters to the opposition. She told me she had learned from experience that being too threatening can get "their backs up".
I wanted to convince a housemate who was watching my TV in the living room for long hours to buy her own. This was uncomfortable because I didn't want her to feel like I didn't want her in the living room. I had another housemate who is very good with people. He works with juvenile delinquents and is able to persuade them to behave a lot of the time. I figured that he would be able to advise me on how to approach persuading her. He said that I could ask her if it was a possibility that she buy a TV and not put any urgency into the request. He said if you make it urgent people feel cornered.
Humor can be helpful in persuading people to do something they should do. Advertisements often use humor as an aid in influencing people to purchase a product. Successful marketers and advertisers are expert influencers. An excellent book about the psychology of marketing is called Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.
Persuading People That They Have Done Wrong
My experience is that when I tell someone that they have done wrong they will find ways to rationalize that they are totally innocent and that I am somehow the bad guy. If I tell them that someone they are close to did something bad to someone else they will hear that I am attacking the person they are close to, not that the person did something wrong. If I tell them a friend of mine has a problem with someone they are close to than they will hear that the friend of mine is attacking that person.
A recent example of how people reject valid criticism was when I rented a room in a house out to a computer programmer. When he moved in he agreed to not play music late at night but soon he was turning on music at 2 AM. The first few times that he woke me up with his music, I walked down stairs and politely asked him to turn it off so I could sleep. Finally I realized that polite asking was not accomplishing anything so I came downstairs and banged on his door and told him in loud voice that I should not have to come down at 2 am to tell him to turn off his music. Later we discussed this and I told him that he wasn't being considerate and that he should apologize. He refused to apologize saying that I was inconsiderate for banging on his door. He ignored the obvious fact that I banged on his door because he was being inconsiderate. Another example was when it was his turn to clean the bathroom and the toilet was disgusting and I complained to him about it. He argued that the person responsible for cleaning the bathroom the other week wasn't doing it so I was discriminating against him for telling him to do it during his week. In both cases he was rejecting valid criticisms and making me out to be the bad guy i.e. creating paranoia toward me. I have a large web page on this web site devoted to creating paranoia.
Sometimes you have no choice but to tell someone that what they are doing is wrong and will be met with some kind of disciplinary action. We have no control over whether they choose to accept responsibility for their actions or choose to create paranoia toward us in their minds. What we can do is try and establish a friendship with them before this happens. A person I know who has been a supervisor most of his life has told me that he established good relations with everyone no matter what their position and they would do anything for him. That didn't mean that there weren't people who didn't meet their responsibilities and then he had to explain to them that such behavior would be met with disciplinary action.
Sometimes if we anticipate that the person we will speak to will reject criticism by becoming hostile it may be best not to make that criticism since the end result may be worse than keeping silent about it.
Persuading People to Change Their Beliefs
People often believe what they believe because they want to believe it. Then they rationalize justifications for their beliefs. I have had very frustrating communications with people like this. For example, acquaintances of mine once published work based on preliminary work that I had done. I complained to one of them that I had conceived of the project and had done the preliminary work, yet their names were on the publication and mine wasn't. One of them like most people I know, likes to think of himself as never doing anything wrong. He responded to me that "if I thought I had exclusive rights to the work he couldn't help me". That's ironic because they took exclusive rights to the work. When I wrote back to him that I had never said that he responded that he never had accused me of that. He denied what was in his own email because he didn't want to believe he had made a false accusation.
In order to win an argument with someone like that you have to get them to want to believe what you are saying. Sometimes that's impossible.
It has been my experience that I have
not been able to
persuade other people of my point of view when I'm fighting with them.
Sometimes I have been able to
persuade people if I am in a friendly conversation with them. My
ex-girlfriend (at the
time my girlfriend) even laughed at her own behavior when I first was
affectionate to her
before bringing up a constructive criticism. Constructive criticism
generally hurts self
esteem so it may be helpful to build up someone's self esteem before
making the criticism.
That doesn't mean one should say something that's untrue.
It is important not
to hammer away at something either. Making a criticism once in an
should be enough. Hammering away at it will likely cause resentment and
result in the
other person rejecting one's attempts at persuasion. Giving
orders and ultimatums to
another person in order to get them to do what you want often creates
rebellion. It's better to ask at first.
Although trying to persuade
someone in an affectionate way has served me better than trying to
persuade them when I'm angry at them, I know of someone who persuaded
my wife to diet when I had very little success by not being
affectionate at all. She said to my wife, "You're too fat to wear
that dress". My wife became very angry and started dieting and
exercising every day.
My ex-girlfriend was convinced of a memories of abuse by her therapist and I always wondered why her therapist had so much influence over her while I had none at all. One of the reasons was that her therapist had the status of a professional while I did not. Another reason was that all the therapists persuasion was done in a loving way and with my ex perceiving that the therapist was trying to help her. I was trying to help my ex but somehow our arguments turned into fights.
One of the biggest barriers to persuasion is ego. If you try and persuade someone they are wrong or worse that they have done wrong their ego is likely to get in the way. They don't want to hear that or believe that. If you can lead them to discover on their own the truth you are more likely to persuade them. Asking leading questions may help them do that. An elderly woman told me that while she was married the way she persuaded her husband to do something was to plant a seed. She would say something like "Maybe someday we should get a new fence" and eventually he would get a new fence. Planting a seed can be a way to help someone discover the truth. Therapists by asking questions of their patients help them discover the truth on their own. I've seen comedies in which a wife persuades a husband to do what she wants him to do by getting him to think it was his idea to begin with.
Previously I mentioned the persuasiveness of my ex's therapist and gave a reason for it. Another reason her therapist was so effective was because instead of telling my ex-girlfriend what was the answer, she led her to discover the answers. Guiding someone toward an answer with questions is frequently more persuasive than telling them the answer. When you tell someone the answer they often get the message that you think you you are smarter than they are and they resent that and so reject your point of view. That problem is circumvented if they come up with the answer themselves. That brings up another point which is instead of sending the message that one thinks one knows better than the other person one is more likely to be persuasive if one sends the message that one thinks highly of the other person. Perhaps a good way to do that would be to make a compliment while trying to persuade the other person. (If one makes phoney compliments the other person might catch on so I think it's best to be genuine).
Yet another reason the therapist was effective in persuasion was because the patient perceived that if she did what the therapist told her to do she would eliminate her problems and find happiness. If you can create a reward for the person for acting on the basis of your constructive criticism that might help in persuasion as well.
These thoughts about persuasion may apply to groups as well. Rarely do groups with opposing views show affection toward each. other. As a result they fight and neither side can persuade the other.
One of the most advanced fields of psychology is the field of marketing. Marketing involves persuading someone to buy. Unlike many other branches of psychology it is tested all the time. A company that uses poor marketing techniques is likely to go out of business. An excellent book has been written about the psychology of marketing called Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.
For more information about persuasion see the Holding On To Beliefs Section of this web site.
Persuasion of People to Give Up Delusions:
A therapist I spoke with told me that her approach was to help the patient discover an inconsistency in the patient's beliefs. She might bring up one inconsistency per session. She claimed to have successfully treated schizophrenics.
Some patients let go of their irrational beliefs after drug therapy or electroshock. The drugs and electroshock probably are reducing the emotional support for the belief. Paranoid beliefs are a lot less plausible when one is not in a paranoid emotional state.
Another group of professionals who deal with challenging beliefs other than therapists are deprogrammers, the people who rescue victims of cults. Steven Hassan, a deprogrammer and former cult member wrote a book about it called Combating Cult Mind Control.
Garety, Fowler and Kuipers (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Medication Resistant Symptoms Schizophrenia Bulletin, 26(1) 73-86, 2000) describe a method for treating delusions with which they have had some success. I summarize it below:
Cognitive-behavior therapy begins with a period of building and establishing a collaborative therapeutic relationship in which enabling the client to feel understood is of paramount importance. While establishing a therapeutic alliance is an important predictor of therapy success in general (Horvath and Symonds Relationship between working alliance and outcome in psychotherapy: A meta analysis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 38: 139-149, 1991), it is particularly relevant to working with people with psychosis...The occurrence of psychotic symptoms during the session, such as hallucinations or paranoid ideas, are acknowledged and gently discussed. This collaborative and gentle style clearly contrasts with the past conventional wisdom, which held that it was important to confront and not collude with a person's delusions. Clinical experience and research evidence indicate, however, that the direct challenging of beliefs as false, unlikely or unfounded, with counterarguments, is not helpful. Indeed, such an approach will generally increase the strength of conviction and will potentially lead to distress and dropout (See Milton F., Patwa, V. K., and Hafner R. J. Confrontation vs. belief modification in persistently deluded patients. British Journal of Medical Psychology, 51:127-130,1978)
Gradually the therapist moves from empathic listening to more structured assessment interviewing, in which the hterapist attempts to clarify the particular life circumstances, events, and experiences that provided the context fo the onset of psychosis and makes a detailed analysis of specific distressing symptoms and other problems. Over a period of approximately six sessions...the therapist carries out a detailed assessment, covering past history and present circumstances, while also aiming to develop rapport and trust. By the end of this period, some preliminary shared goals for therapy should be developed. These must be relevant to the client and expressed in the client's own terms, while being compatible with what the therapy can hope to achieve. For example, goals might be "to feel less paranoid while out of the house," "to cope better with the voices when at the day center," or "to feel less upset and angry with myself if the day goes badly...
Work on coping strategies follows directly from the assessment, in which current distressing symptoms and experiences have been identified, such as episodes of hearing voices and feeling anxious or suspicious when out. A range of cognitive and behavioral strategies, including activity scheduling, aniety reduction, and attention control, has been shown to reduce the occurrence or duration of such problems (Fowler and Morley, The Cognitive behavioral treatment of hallucinations and delusions: A preliminary study, Behavioural Psychotherapy, 17:267-282, 1989 and Tarrier Management and modification of residual positive psychotic symptoms. In : Birchwood, M., and Tarrier, N., eds, Innovations in the Psychological Management of Schizophrenia. Chichester, England: John Wiley and Sons, 1992)...
A key first step in helping a client reevaluate beliefs is to construct a new model of events that is acceptable and makes sense ot the client... Evidence that psychotic experiences occur int he general population under certain stressful conditions (e.g. sensory and sleep deprivation) is used to "normalize" psychosis (Kingdon and Turkington Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Schizophrenia Hove, England; Lawrence Erlbaum, 1994). Depending on the ability and interest of the client, we discuss biopsychosocial theories of psychosis and cognitive models of symptoms. The possible mechanisms of antipsychotic medication are often usefully discussed and set within the broader stress vulnerability framework. In fostering a new or fuller understanding of the expedrience of psychosis, the therapist aims to reduce the guilt or denial associated with it and to provide a rationale for engaging in behaviors that reduce the risk of relapse and enhance functioning...
It is not assumed that simply discussing a formulation will lead to delusional belief change. Where delusions and beliefs about voices are well-established, they are typically maintained by repeated misinterpretations of specific events, by ongoing anomalous experiences, and by cognitive and behavioral patterns that preferentially seek out confirmation and prevent disconfirmation of existing beliefs (Garety and Hemsley Delusions: Investigations in to the Psychology of Delusional Reasoning, Maudsley Monograph, Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1994). For example, there is strong evidence that some people with delusions "jump to conclusions" on the basis of little evidence and that they have a biased attributional style in which other people are blamed for negative events (Bentall 1994 Cognitive Biases and Abnormal Beliefs:Towards a Model of Persecutory Delusions. In: David A.S. and Cutting J. eds. The Neuropsychology of Schizophrenia Hove, England; Lawrence Erlbaum 1994 pp337-360; Garety and Freeman Cognitive Approaches to Delusions: A Critical Review of Theories and Evidence British Journal of Clinical Psychology 38 (Pt 2) 113-154 1999). The beliefs may also serve the function of protecting self-esteem and at the least, will have made subjective sense of disturbing or puzzling experiences. Therefore, the emotional consequences of changing strongly held beliefs need to be explored. After disucssing in general terms how events may be misinterpreted as a result of cognitive biases and how inner experiences (throughts or images) may be misattributed to external sources, a detailed analysis of day to day experiences and judgments is made. In each session, over a number of weeks or months, these are reviewed and alternatives generated. Chadwick Birchwood and Trower Cognitive Therapy For Delusions Voices and Paranoia Chichester England, John Wiley and Sons (1996) have provided a full account of this work with delusional beliefs, while Chadwick and birchwood (1994) have developed approaches to auditory hallucinations that show that changing the beliefs held about voices (e.g. about their identity or powerfulness) will reduce distress.
Low self-esteem is common in people with medication-resistant symptoms of psychosis (Freeman et al. 1998 British Journal of Clinical Psychology 37 (Pt4) 415-430 )...such self-evaluation s are likely to be factors in the maintenance of delusons and voices, for example, by being congruent with and thereby appearing to confirm the accuracy of abusive voices (Close and Garety 1998 British Journal of Clinical Psychology 37 (Pt 2) 173-188 1998) After negative evaluations have been identified, standard cognitive therapy approaches are often applicable, to review the history of the development of these ideas over the life span and to reevaluate the evidence. Many people with psychosis have experienced very adverse life events and circumstances, including the psychosis itself and its consequences. In such cases, reappraisal may take the form of assisting the client to view him or herself as not, for example, "a total failure" or "a worthless person," but as someone who has struggled heroically with adversity.
Garety stresses that:
We only undertake this work once the therapeutic relationship is firmly established. by this we mean that the therapy should have progressed at least tot he point that agreed goals have been articulated...Second, the approach is gentle and nonconfrontational; the therapist must carefully judge whether and how far to challenge the client's interpretations...Third despite our best efforts, some clients firmly resist reevaluating their beliefs...
Persuasion by Identity
One reason the deprogrammer I hired was effective in persuading my ex-girlfriend was that she had a similar identity to the person who persuaded my girlfriend to believe in false memories since she was also a therapist. A man who was planning a suicide attack on the U.S. embassy in France was dissuaded by Moslem clerics who thought it was wrong. One reason they were persuasive is probably that their identity was similar to that of the clerics who persuaded the man to carry out the attacks. I believe that I read that people are persuaded by those they admire. So if a popular actor or singer were to support a cause it is likely that others who are fans of that person would support it too. This may be the reason that Scientology recruits celebrities.
Persuading Someone to Lose Weight
See the weight loss page of this web site.
Being friendly and thanking people for desirable behaviors in advance can make it unnecessary to attempt to stop them from undesirable behavior in the future. In my experience encouraging good behavior is much more effective than discouraging bad behavior.
The Ultimate Persuader
Sometimes the ultimate persuader is experience. In fact if I remember correctly, police in Camden, New Jersey had a program in which they tried to scare teenagers off of taking drugs by taking them to hospitals where they could see what happened to others.
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