5 Psychological Theories to Improve Our Persuasion Skills

August 18, 2019

John Ruskin once said that “He who holds the truth within his heart should never fear that his tongue will lack the strength of persuasion.” Yes, it’s best when our argument speaks for itself. Nevertheless, psychology has studied other theories that can be very helpful in certain moments.

Before continuing, let’s understand persuasion as the ability to seduce, convince, impress or fascinate a person.

Psychological theories to improve your persuasion

Maybe the term persuasion has acquired certain connotations in the past couple of years. We live in a climate of political instability and high consumerism in which we are constantly bombarded with persuasive messages. The interests of these messages aren’t always as clear as they should be or, when they are clear, they stray far from noble causes.

man staring at blank screen

At this point we have to make sure you are clear on the difference between persuasion and manipulation. The difference that exists between the two lies in honesty, which is present in persuasion and absent in the case of manipulation. In the use of persuasion, the other person knows that we are trying to convince them of something, because we have shared it with them. Instead, in manipulation you tend to hide or disguise this fact.

Persuasion, understood as the ability to influence the other person in an honest way, is a skill which gives you an advantage if you manage to develop it. That’s why it is important to know certain theories that have been proven valid over time.

The amplification hypothesis

A determined attitude expressed with certainty is very resistant to persuasion. However, it is softened if it is expressed with uncertainty. In this case, arguments based on emotions are very resistant to logic. The same thing applies the other way around.

Thus, if we put this hypothesis, which was promulgated by Clarkson, Tbormala and Rucker, to the test, your possibilities to influence people will increase if the attitude you project is on the same plain as the one of your listener. This is precisely what gives the theory its name. If you want to persuade someone about a topic, agree with them about a certain sports team. If the other person notices this coincidence, the power of your arguments will be augmented.

The theory of manipulation

This theory wields four maxims to seduce someone. Facilitate information in the most complete way possible and make the information be true. Make sure it be relevant to the topic at hand and that it is presented in a way the other person can understand.

man holding marionette strings

This theory, which can sound very bad due to the use of the word manipulation, is in fact very logical and sensible. As Ruskin said, if the truth is on your side, you shouldn’t fear not being persuasive. But you must be very prepared and to have ample knowledge of the topic, as well as know how to explain it, in order to convince someone.

However, defending yourself is complex, especially if your listener has a way with words. It is necessary that you watch their non-verbal language, in case it may reflect contradictions with the security and confidence of his speech and what his gestures are saying.

The theory of priming

This psychological theory of persuasion is often used in advertising. It is based on the networks of association that we have established within our memory. Thus, when a memory, concept or a sensation is activated, for a limited time, so is everything that is associated to them. For example, if someone talks about your favorite breakfasts from your childhood, it will later on be much easier for you to go out and buy the brand of milk you used to use back then.

In fact, priming has to be very subtle. This way, the person that is being stimulated is not aware of how they are being stimulated. Yet, they do know that they are in a state of influence, such as in an advertising show. Otherwise, we would be talking about manipulation.

“Sigmund Freud was, without a doubt, a genius. Not of science, but of propaganda. Not of rigorous tests, but rather of persuasion.”
-Hans Eysenck-

hands on fire

Putting this rule into practice can be as simple as saying thank you. In the face of this offering, you expect your listener to return this courtesy. As the size or weight of the favor augments, so should the level of reciprocity.

The beginning of scarcity

In a certain way, all of us as human beings feel the need to control our world. Having the right to choose and make decisions about our surroundings is important. Thus, when something becomes scarce, the sense of desire increases.

This psychological technique is used in advertising often. Think of slogans as famous and well-used as “while supplies last”. So, if you consider yourself a victim of this practice, think through whether you really need that scarce good, feeling or emotion that is being offered to you.

“Any change not chosen by the very individual is not sincere. Therefore, it will be mediocre and temporary, if it takes place at all.”
-Rafael Santandreu-