Aristotle was one of the first thinkers on persuasion. According to him, the three elements of effective persuasion are (1) to reason logically, (2) to understand human character and goodness and (3) to understand emotions and what excites them.
Persuasion is a tool for all of us to meet our goals. It is at the heart of interpersonal relationships. Skillful persuasion is also fundamental to thwarting conflict as inherent in persuasion is that the persuader meets his needs, but not at the expense of the target of his persuasion. That is, as “the target” voluntarily agrees to do something, both sides are empowered. In fact, as persuasion is deeply connected to empathy and building the trust sub-conversation, if done skillfully, it ought to promote well-being on both sides. And effective conflict resolution is about promoting everyone’s wellbeing.
Fundamental to persuasion is understanding the decision maker on the other side. That is, as persuasion is ultimately about influencing the decision the person on the other side makes, you ought to know a thing or two about the decision making process and the manner in which the specific target of your persuasion makes a decision.
Not everyone makes decisions in the same way. In fact, research shows that people have different decision making personalities and that most people fall into one of five decision making styles. These are the Charismatics, the Thinkers, the Sceptics, the Followers, and the Controllers. A decision-making personality, however, is not to be confused with someone’s inherent character or overall personality style. For instance, someone may be a “Thinker” when it comes to making decisions, but be a charismatic personality.
Thinkers rely heavily on data, are methodical and thorough. In order to influence them, tell your story chronologically, with all the supporting data and be prepared to help them through the thinking process because in their quest to ensure no data is left uncovered, they will have many questions for you. Understanding how the other side makes decisions is fundamental to skillful conflict resolution and should be part of the tool box that you require to resolve conflict skillfully and problem solve effectively.
As Aristotle poignantly told us years ago, another dimension of skillful persuasion is to pay attention to the emotional argument. Justice John I. Laskin, the chief justice of the Court of Appeal for Ontario has said to lawyers attempting to persuade a judge that “appeal to emotion plays a role in persuasion” even on the Ontario Court of Appeal. This statement is quite profound. Many Court of Appeal judges would be a “Thinker” when it comes to decision-making. Even then, Justice Laskin has told us that the emotional argument matters to the top “Thinkers” in the country.
And to make a compelling emotional argument, you need to understand what emotional argument will likely resonate with the target of your persuasion. That is, not everyone gets affected emotionally by the same things.
In a face to face encounter, this requires that you become skillful at reading the target of your persuasion. Research tells us that most communication takes place in the non-verbal realm as opposed to the verbal realm of spoken words. In other words, reading the emotional cues of the target of your persuasion requires that you become skillful at reading the non-verbal cues. Research further tells us that we aren’t any good at reading faces and that we perform no better than random guessing at detecting lies.
There are many elements to skillful persuasion. The foregoing is a small sample of what I talk about in the Persuasion chapter of my book, The Conflict Resolution Grail.
Effective conflict resolution has many layers. Learning about each element and mastering them is fundamental to our well-being and leading happy, fulfilled and successful lives.