Business Skills

30+ Persuasion Techniques People Use For Good Or Bad


Propaganda ends where dialogue begins.

- Marshall McLuhan


Argument vs Persuasion vs Propaganda

We already talked about negotiation (win-win) vs persuasion (reasoning) vs influencing (more personal gain). A similar thing happens when you compare Argument vs persuasion vs Propaganda.


Now, people will say arguing is about 'going after the truth', and persuading is about pushing something which is rooted in truth, and that propaganda is pure 'political advertising', where every fact is 100% distorted and false information is aplenty.


I think all this is very subjective.


Every persuading activity uses some 'trickery' and 'relative truths'.


Look at the 'correctness' of argument/persuasion/propaganda/influencing depending on how much trickery they used, how far right they went on the scale of convincing people.


The cliche goes, 'guns don't kill people. People kill people.'


This list of persuasion techniques covers the gamut of persuasion: Arguments, oral persuasion, and the extreme art of propaganda. Items near the bottom end of the list are pure evil.


1. Explicitly Stated Facts: Using facts to persuade. Quoting from a study/research/news report etc to explain how serious a matter is. Wily persuaders will also 'make up' facts. 'A recent study showed...I didn't believe when I read it, but...'


2. Humor: We use humor to feel good ourselves, and to invoke trust and ease among the audience. People use 'icebreakers' to get things rolling among a group of strangers. People also use humor to distract the listener's mind away from something. Open with a funny story, or a funny opening - 'Why so serious?'


3. Bandwagon: Persuaders use our fear of not to be left out/left behind . We want to be on the new thing, because everyone is doing it. We want to 'jump on the bandwagon'. This is how big social networking websites were born. 'What? You don't use Site X? All our friends re on Site X.'


4. Repetition: Repeating words, sounds or images to reinforce the main point. 'Because this is wrong. Because this is not what we voted for. Because this will set our civilization back by a thousand years.'


5. Rule of Three: We have already covered this before. When we say something three times, or giving three examples or explanations briefly, people tend to believe it more. 'That’s the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.'


6. Warm and Fuzzy: Using a pleasing voice to evoke sentimental images in the listener's mind to get them into a state of comfort. 'That dress looks sensational on you.'


7. Charisma: Using magnetic personality (being warm, welcoming, smiling, in-charge, bold, confident etc) to charm people. Politicians and so-called big name CEOs/entrepreneurs use this tactic all the time. You become great at talking and presenting, and people will believe in you even if you are in the wrong.


8. Extrapolation (and slippery slope): Misleading people by drawing huge conclusions on the basis of a few small facts, ignoring how complex something may be, and drawing upon people's fear or huge expectations of something. People will paint a 'slippery slope' picture - 'If they do this, soon they will also do this...' - 'Based on current rate of population growth, there won't be enough space for humans by 2100.'


9. Flattery: We like to be praised. Advertisers will say, 'after a hard days of work, you need...'. Yes browsing Facebook was real hard today.


10. Generalities: Using power words to vaguely describe things (pure, fresh) that have no specific meaning, or even attaching grand words to make the vague interesting (democracy, freedom, equality or progress).


11. Brand New: We like new, shiny stuff. People will make even old ideas 'new. 'The new Shampoo X with all new...'


12. Nostalgia: Making the audience look back to a better time in history, a time when life was simpler and better. Works best on older people or people who don't know anything better. 'The good old days.'


13. Rhetorical Questions: These questions don’t need an answer. The answer is implied in the question, and is something the listener/s agrees with. 'It’s too cold today. Isn’t it?'


14. Analogy: Comparing two situation- between what you are proposing and something simple and clear the audience is already familiar with. - 'Life is like a box of chocolates'.


15. Slogans: Slogans are short phrases that we use to influence people to do something. 'As long as there is injustice in the world, there will also be Amnesty' - Amnesty International


16. Hyperboles: Similar to metaphors ('these are dark day') and similes ('she looks like a princess'), hyperboles are comparisons, but are even more exaggerated and ridiculous. 'I’ve told you a million times.'


17. Anecdotes: Stories that may or may not be true, used to prove/or un-prove a point. Politicians use them often. Abraham Lincoln was a master at this.


18. Stereotyping: Classify the other side is a negative light. We often put people into stereotypes of race, gender, color, culture etc. Every culture/sub-culture has a stereotype. 'Why do Indians nod their heads so often?'


19. Plain folks: Wearing ordinary dresses like other people, and using simple words and sentences, convincing others that you are just like them, 'plain/simple people'. And then, with these 'plain/simple people' on your side, you attack the opponent, painting them as 'the showy other'. Sales people will say 'normal middle class people like us can't afford...'


20. Divine sanction: Showing people that you are very religious, and hat you have holy people, and even God on your side. Crusaders fought on the idea 1000 years ago. Gurus and charlatans use this to put themselves on a higher pedestal.


21. Sensationalism: Presenting stories as very important, dramatic and extreme, making them appear more urgent that they actually are. Sensationalism panders to people's fears. 'This accident shows that Government has totally lost its way.'


21. Ad hominem (Latin, 'against the man'): Attacking a person, instead of the idea itself. When someone says or does something we don't approve of, we will often attack the person first - 'He is an untrustworthy person. He comes from a broken marriage. he is always in debt...', anything but the idea itself.


23. Straw man: Building up an illogical or deliberately damaged idea and presenting it as something your opponent represents or supports. Basically we are going after the weakest/non-existing argument instead of going after the strongest argument. 'You said the common man is important, so show me this 'common man'. - 'If you don't ...then you aren't a real ...'


24. Card stacking: (propaganda) Making people believe that things are happening naturally, and have not been controlled, but reality is otherwise. Card stacking involves emphasizing one side, while suppressing the other - e.g. media bias, one-sided testimonials, making sure critics aren't heard.


25. Character Assassination: (propaganda) Destroying the credibility of a person/organization, using false accusations, planting and fostering rumors, and manipulating information.


26. Demonization and dehumanization: Making opponents look bad in all kinds possible, beyond any scope of redemption, having crossed a point of no return. Hitler successfully portrayed jews as 'not human' .


27. Scapegoating: A propaganda trick. Finding someone/something to blame the current problems on. Politicians used this all the time - Hitler came to power by accusing Jews for the economic problems in post -world war 1 Germany.


28. Polarization (Us vs Them method): Showing people that 'they are not like us', that 'they stand for everything you believe in'. And at the same time, paint people on your side as 'glorious heroes', valiantly fighting the good fight against their 'evil villains'.


29. Name calling: This is also strictly a propaganda technique. Denigrating opponents (politicians do it all the time). In George Orwell's 'Animal Farm', the pigs refer to human beings as 'worthless parasitical human beings.'


30. The Big lie: 'Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.'

People are suspicious of small lies more than the big ones. Hitler used this the best (he even wrote about the big lie in his autobiography, where he accused the Jews of pointing fingers at a German army officer for Germany’s defeat in World War 1).


Big lies exploit our biases: Conspiracy theories, alternate history, etc. Politicians use the big lie all the time, playing on people's inherent biases and fears.


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