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Professional Writing: 8 Tips to Ensure Your Team’s Communication is Persuasive

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Posted July 5, 2024

All professional writing is persuasive; don’t misunderstand: persuasion isn’t necessarily about getting someone to change their mind (although it can be). Instead, the ability to persuade effectively is pivotal in all kinds of environments, especially business and technical settings, where companies must convince customers to make purchase decisions, stakeholders to make correct and effective decisions, and the public to engage in desired behaviors.

Importantly, persuasion is not about manipulation; it’s about understanding human psychology and leveraging evidence-based techniques to convey your message compellingly—especially in written and verbal communications. It thus involves guiding others to a particular viewpoint or action through credible, emotional, and logical appeals. Here are 8 persuasive techniques to power up your team’s ability to convince and compel.

Evidence-Based Persuasive Techniques

1: Start Small

Big asks often get rejected outright. Instead, focus on small requests that may face less initial resistance in the beginning. “Take a big ask and break it down into smaller, more manageable chunks,” writes The Harvard Business Review.

Jacob Teeny, a psychologist and marketing expert at Northwestern University, cites environmental advocacy as an example. “Oftentimes, the issue isn’t so much about helping the environment.” In other words, people are often perfectly willing to be persuaded to act but resist large requests. Use the “foot-in-the-door” technique by starting with a small request (e.g., starting to use a single compost bin) and gradually increasing the magnitude of the requests over time (such as organizing volunteers to clean up a park).

2: Give People a Reason

One of the most straightforward yet powerful persuasive techniques is to provide a reason for your request. As Robert Cialdini states in his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, “A well-known principle of human behavior says that when we ask someone to do us a favor, we will be more successful if we provide a reason. People simply like to have reasons for what they do.” Providing a reason, even a simple one, can significantly increase compliance and acceptance.

3: Don’t Wait

Timing is crucial in persuasive communication. One clever study looked at written online conversations in the “Change My View” forum on the social media site Reddit. Researchers then assessed which rhetorical strategies were the most successful at successfully persuading people to a particular position or viewpoint. One standout tactic: promptness. “Waiting reduced the likelihood of persuasion,” writes Psychology Today in a summary of the research study. If nothing else, swift engagement shows that you’re attentive and responsive, increasing the likelihood of influencing others effectively.

4: Provide Evidence

Support your arguments with external evidence to enhance their credibility. The same study of the Reddit forum also found that pointing to outside evidence was more persuasive than making arguments without evidence. Citing studies, expert opinions, and statistical data can make your case more compelling and difficult to refute. However, facts alone may not be enough to persuade or change someone’s mind. Mental processes, such as confirmation bias and motivated reasoning, can result in rejection even when evidence is solid. To maximize the effectiveness of your proof, consider leveraging the “trinity of evidence,” or a combination of facts, persistence, and empathy with the audience.

5: Know Your Audience

In fact, understanding and empathizing with your audience is fundamental to effective persuasion. For one thing, “people pay more attention to things that are personally relevant to them,” says Professor Zakary Tormala of the Stanford Graduate School of Business. We call this “WIFM,” or “what’s in it for me”; when people see how they benefit, they’re more likely to comply.

Understanding the intended audience also allows the communicator to structure an argument that will minimize resistance. Tormala explains, “When you think about a person’s attitude or opinion, you can usually identify whether it’s positive or negative on some topic. They’re favorable or unfavorable. A pro-attitudinal message is a message that’s on the same side of an issue.” In other words, start by expressing some form of agreement but add in an opening to change their minds. Tormala cites the example of not wanting to hire a candidate that a colleague likes. Instead of saying, “No way,” Tormala advises saying something like, “They’re pretty good. I see some of the good qualities there, but I also have some concerns,” or, “I see some limitations, as well.”

6: Get People to Persuade Themselves

One of the most effective persuasive techniques is getting people to persuade themselves. According to The Harvard Business Review, this can be done “by pointing out a disconnect between their thoughts and actions, or between what they might recommend for others versus do themselves.” People strive for internal consistency; highlighting an inconsistency can prompt them to realign their beliefs. For example, an anti-smoking campaign in Thailand used messaging aimed at smokers that read, “You worry about me … But why not about yourself?” This approach led to a 60% increase in calls to a toll-free number for help quitting smoking.

7: Reaffirm the Audience’s Freedom to Choose

Avoid making your audience feel that their autonomy is threatened. Sherry Seethaler, Director of Education Initiatives, School of Physical Sciences, University of California, San Diego and author of Beyond the Sage on the Stage: Communicating Science and Contemporary Issues Effectively, explains that “Communication aimed at promoting a certain behavior can have the opposite effect when the message is perceived as a threat to individual autonomy.” The “BYAF Technique” (But You Are Free) is particularly effective. Remind people they are free to accept or refuse, act or not act, and agree or disagree. This approach reduces resistance and increases compliance.

8: Build Your Rhetorical (and Thus Persuasion) Skills Through Training

Improving writing and communication skills through professional writing training can also enhance the ability to produce more persuasive content. Professional training equips participants with a deeper understanding of rhetorical techniques, enabling them to craft messages that are clear and coherent and compelling and credible. By learning to structure arguments effectively, use evidence persuasively, and tailor messages to specific audiences, teams can increase their influence and impact.

This enhanced capability leads to more successful outcomes from marketing campaigns and business proposals to internal communications and public relations efforts.

For a proven partner in writing instruction that can help your team produce content that persuades, compels, and convinces, contact Hurley Write for a consultation to assess and find the right solution(s) for your team’s writing needs.

Professional Writing: 8 Tips to Ensure Your Team’s Communication is Persuasive

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