March 19, 2018

Five categories of persuasion

For multiple reasons, it is hard to change people’s minds. In particular:

Yet tremendous resources are devoted to persuasion, meant to change or confirm people’s beliefs as the case may be. That’s the essence of such activities as marketing, religion, education, and political campaigns — not to mention blogging.  I.e. — despite the difficulties, persuasion is widely (and of course correctly) believed to be possible. Let’s explore how that works.

Most persuasion and mind-changing, I believe, fits into five overlapping categories, which may be summarized as:

The first two are discussed below. The next two are discussed in a companion post. I’m still trying to figure out how the last one works. 🙂

1. Creating initial/first impressions is nice marketing work if you can get it:

Even so, there are multiple ways to screw up first-impression marketing, including:

2. More common are opportunities to influence the scope of somebody’s beliefs, generally via some version of: “Yes, there’s a lot of truth to what you believe, but it happens not to apply in every situation.” The basic idea here is:

3. Scope-limitation is a classic strategy when selling against large technology vendors, along lines such as:

Often such pitches also fall into another persuasion category, when you claim that your product’s advantages are important to a particular customer, while its disadvantages are not.

4. A huge subcategory of scope limitation pertains to time, in the template “Yes, that used to be true, so you were certainly correct to believe it. But now things have changed.” I think this helps explain the huge emphasis on news — real or imagined — as part of the persuasion process.

5. Political beliefs are particularly subject to exceptions and scope limitations. For example:

6. Two other kinds of persuasion can both be categorized as affecting the strength of somebody’s beliefs:

These are addressed in a companion post.

7. Finally, I do of course have some thoughts about outright changing of people’s minds. In particular:

People’s minds can be changed. The War on Truth is not unwinnable.


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