Post No.: 0537
When you present your arguments and you want to motivate action from others – choosing the right framing for the audience in front of you is crucial. How are your arguments directly relevant to your audience, without losing sight of the bigger picture? How are your points also indirectly related to them in ways they didn’t think of? How do they personally connect to the message? What’s in it for them?
You must therefore understand your audience before they’ll want to listen to you. Appeal to their values, not yours (e.g. to their compassion or their bottom line). Some people are motivated more by push, prevention or goals that minimise losses, and others more by pull, promotion or goals that maximise gains.
Communicate with salience (grab their attention), relevance (maintain their attention), authority and legitimacy (gain their trust in what you say). Using a different angle or phrase like ‘carbon offset’ instead of ‘carbon tax’, or ‘graduate contribution’ instead of ‘student loan’ could make all the difference – but don’t take the **** because people will sense the spin!
Due to ‘discounting’, far future risks don’t feel as important today – so how will you make those risks feel more present and urgent? Or if something requires commitment, could you use discounting to your advantage (e.g. by getting people to sign up for an energy efficiency home inspection in the future if they feel too busy right now)?
Due to ‘loss aversion’, most people care more about avoiding losses than seeking gains of the same magnitude if they’re received at the same time (e.g. losing £10 today feels worse in magnitude of pain than gaining £10 today feels good in magnitude of pleasure – hence if a £10 note was found in the sofa and then a different £10 note was misplaced somewhere else shortly afterwards, most people would focus slightly more on the regret of the misplaced £10).
Try to offer immediate incentives for changing behaviour (e.g. publicising the names of those who’ll sign up for green activities today). Make it easy for them to take the desired call-to-action. Emphasise that there are solutions to encourage positive attitudes, empowerment and action. Make sure to convey – through evidence and through what people experience today rather than merely what they may experience in the future – that small changes can make a big difference.
Central arguments are based on facts, statistics and logical arguments, and work best when the audience is highly involved and analytical. Peripheral cues are like using beautiful music, idyllic settings, attractive models or other incidental cues, and work best when the audience isn’t too involved or critical. Most advertising campaigns utilise both.
A ‘game theory’ modelling approach for considering things from the perspectives of other people involves assessing the payoff matrices of their possible action choices and assuming that they will act rationally in trying to achieve their highest possible payoff based on the information they have… But this assumes that people normally think this way and always act rationally and logically(!) More realistically (for better or worse) – appealing to the public, the electorate or consumers by tapping into their political prejudices and fears, and by using hyperbole and superficial arguments, generally works more effectively than pure reason.
Remember to tailor your messages for different audiences for some audiences are more scientifically literate than others – but generally, most people aren’t scientifically literate so translate scientific data into concrete experiences and clear graphs and visuals. Raw data alone doesn’t generally motivate people as much as emotionally charged and vivid images, stories, accounts, metaphors, analogies and personal experiences.
Concentrating too much on emotional cues can backfire though if it’s too much that people end up voluntarily shutting themselves off from it all or end up feeling numb after repeated exposures to messages of fear, especially if they don’t personally experience any negative outcomes because the predicted effects are too far away in the future or they’re only currently affecting other people in other parts in the world. This shutting down may become difficult to reverse too. Everyone has a finite amount of attention and concern, and if one worry feels more urgent, another worry gets pushed aside. A little bit of fuzzy fear gets people to act but too much and people tend to shut off because of the perceived complexity or hopelessness of the situation and/or the perceived implausibility. Also, emotional appeals may only work to get someone interested in the short-term, because unless they’re given other motivations to remain engaged, it’s hard to retain that level of emotional arousal.
Over-exaggerating fears in order to elicit support or donations – no matter if there are good intentions for doing so or even if it achieves temporary results – can leave people thinking that you’re crying wolf too, thus in the long-term could damage the reputation of not just your own movement or charity but of the entire cause. You also don’t want to push fear too far that people start to think that it’s all futile or too late to do something about it when it isn’t, because this will also switch off donations or desired action. People want to feel like they have efficacy and will make a difference.
You might also wish to check out Post No.: 0481, where I identified a range of other cognitive tricks and effects that relate to persuasion.
Before presenting your own position or stance, it’s best to counter any arguments to your position if, and only if, they are obvious or are already well known and if the audience is highly knowledgeable or initially opposed to your position. Also, if you mildly criticise the position that other people hold (i.e. not enough to change their minds) then their natural response is to inoculate and build up a defence to that criticism (e.g. by thinking of reasons why the objection isn’t persuasive) thus this will actually reinforce their pre-existing stance. By pre-emptively countering any arguments to your position, you present the reasons why the other side isn’t persuasive; whilst with ‘attitude inoculation’, the audience is prompted to think of reasons why your side isn’t persuasive – and people prefer to trust their own reasons to reasons that their perceived opponents or ‘outsiders’ give.
Another takeaway from this is don’t ever present weak arguments because the audience will easily come up with ways to refute them, which will in turn inoculate them against any stronger arguments you may present to them in the future (metaphorically like how a vaccine works). Present the weak arguments of your opponent instead.
Generally, if you’re presenting an argument and your opponent will be presenting their opposing argument too, then going first offers an advantage if the two arguments will be shown back-to-back with a long delay before the audience responds (e.g. if your and their campaign videos will be shown a month before an election). But it’s better going second if the two arguments will be separated by a period of time and the audience will respond immediately after the last argument.
Go last if the team who wins will be the team who receives the loudest cheer from the audience, because then the audience will know how loud they’ll need to be in order to beat the current loudest cheer so far. But go first if it’s a food tasting competition, because food tastes better the hungrier we are and less appetising the less hungry we are, all else being equal. (These tricks however really expose the flaws or limitations in these judging methods rather than are persuasion techniques per se!)
Sometimes it’s good to try to make transparently clear to your audience all of the biases and traps that human minds often fall prey to, in order to break down any mental resistances. But don’t use jargon, or explain it if so. (Any jargon in this post, if not explained here, has hopefully been explained before in previous posts by Furrywisepuppy and myself already – meow.)
Humans desire predictability hence uncertainty can be discomforting, even though uncertainty is the reality – here it may help to educate people on how to read scientific data and the scientific meanings of ‘confidence levels’, ‘errors’ or ‘sampling biases’ and that, although no prediction has a 100% certainty, we should proactively act regarding high probability events, especially if the consequences will be grave if we don’t. (Anyone who quotes a 100% certainty concerning anything social or complex is therefore misleading their audience, even though they may sound the most credible and knowledgeable for holding clear black-or-white opinions. Sounding 100% adamant of one’s predictions could therefore be regarded as a persuasion trick – but for this one, I personally think it’s down to the audience to get wiser in seeing through such arrogance.)
If something requires a whole group to collectively act – get them together and foster relationships of responsibility between them. We behave differently in different situations, such as if we’re a mother/father to a child, a boss to an employee, or a friend to a friend (or at least we should have the social intelligence to be adaptable for different contexts, hence being ‘straight-talking’ might be appropriate in some contexts but is poorly judged in other contexts). So help everyone first identify the role they should take the perspective of (e.g. as a mother/father) and help people to create the right relationship to care for each other, and for intrinsic reasons too if possible.
Participation in a group also allows social norms or positive peer pressures to spread. ‘Peer influence’ is one of the most powerful determinants of attitudes and persuaders of change. People care hugely about their perceived public reputations, especially within their ingroups or peer groups. The most closely affiliated group will produce the strongest conformity and cooperation between its members – people will more likely listen to someone they’re more affiliated with than someone who’s considered distant in identity or similarity. So enlist a local or ‘one of their own’ to communicate a message if possible.
In workplaces, most work meetings are considered a waste of time because they’re badly planned and organised, and the quieter members aren’t heard. So it’s a good idea to directly ask specific individuals what they think? Have informal meetings. Eliciting participation from everybody in a group is important because those who felt they were a part of the decision-making process are more likely to support the outcome. But be aware of group dynamics and the influence of subgroups who are distinct (e.g. by education level, wealth, ethnicity) and make sure the overall group is full of enough diversity.
Clarify the process, the expectations for the meeting, the role of the group and how decisions will be made. Early participation in the process is also vital for identifying key issues early. Include enough time for questions and discussions. It might also help to break large groups into smaller groups to better initiate discussions and allow more people to speak. Pay attention to the non-verbal communications too – disruptive behaviour or nods mean something too. Acknowledge that the participants will have other goals as well (e.g. meetings are often times for people to socialise, network or advance their own personal goals) and try to incorporate this. Understand that members will also interact outside of meetings so account for this too.
Finally, people will devote more energy to implementing actions after they’ve made their commitments publicly known. People will find it harder to reverse their publicly-made decisions because it’ll seem like a loss of credibility if they do.