Unfortunately, for you truth lovers out there, for you nerds, for you reasonable rationalists, and cognitive super performers…. I have some news: Persuasion is not about facts, truth, and reason. Real bummer, I know. But that’s reality. Let it sink in. Sigh, drop your eyes, gently kick something and mumble under your breath, “fuck.”
Let’s be reasonable: the truth is that persuasion is not, in fact, about facts, truth, and reason—Or, mostly not. Or, partly not, or, sometimes not. Anyway, it’s not an exact science. Instead, it’s a smoodgy science. It’s a lotta gray area — it’s a foggy road with low visibility that doesn’t care if you’re speeding ‘cause you’re late.
However, I’ve got some ideas that could be useful. First of all, I love smoodgy sciences, they are my fav. They are complex, mysterious, and difficult. Way harder than chemistry or physics. Anybody can do hard sciences. A rock is a rock. 1 + 1 = 2. So clear and straightforward. So easy. The smoodgy sciences, by contrast, slip through your fingers like wet clay. Or, taunt you by shape shifting before your very eyes.
It’s hard to wrestle with an idea made of gooey sludge and gaseous spumes of possibility.
So that, I guess, is what I’m calling persuasion: trying to pin down a gloopy maybe. Actually, it’s kind of intellectually compelling just based on how weird it is. It’s also frustrating.
There are books on it, you say? I read ‘em. There’s books on a lot of things. But back to the real world…
Have you ever tried persuading someone to eat differently?
Have you ever tried to persuade someone your product or service is actually very cool and they should trust you and believe it and float some bills your way?
Have you ever tried to persuade someone this life choice or that is a good one?
Have you ever tried to persuade someone of anything political?
If so, have you ever been ignored? Rejected? Stonewalled? Or kinda sorta ignored and rejected but maybe not?
Check, and check. Sometimes there is only one answer to all this: WTF—or whatever conveys both mystery and anger.
Attempting to persuade someone of something important to you can be especially angrifying. Not infuriating, or angering, but angrifying. I call it angri-fying because it can just make you angry. Infruriating? Meh, no. Angering? Not really strong enough. Angri-fying. Think: Spotify, Shopify.
THIS IS THE SECTION THAT DEFINES PERSUASION
So what is persuasion? If it’s a sales transaction, it requires rapport, credibility, trust, engagement, and the like. And doesn’t always work.
If it’s a fear appeal, it requires stark text and scary images that motivate behavior away from something yucky. Which often doesn’t work.
If it’s teaching, it requires enrollment (marketing, networking, and sign ups), then education over a long period of time. And works best when you go deep, with a ton of patience, and let people go their own way with the info you have to offer.
If it’s social, it may require great non-linear cultural shifts, and it won’t convince everybody. People still claim the earth is flat.
Persuasion: It works, sometimes. Sometimes just to a degree.