8 Powerful Persuasion Tactics

In his tactic case study, Powerful Persuasion: Combating traditional practices that violate human rights, Emile Short describes a campaign that allowed many thousands of women and girls escape religious bondage. This being NewTactics, and a blog aimed at finding methods behind effective change, I latched on a few techniques used in this campaign to engage allies and opponents alike in the successful challenge of an unjust practice.

Here are 8 potent persuasion tactics. I believe their use to be of almost universal value. See if you can apply these to your current work.

  1. Have a plan. Yes, you can go all-out on a huge one-month Persuasion Offensive that will burn up in flames as it crashes against a wall of resistance. Or, you can build a methodical plan to gradually convince layers of your reluctant opposition over the course of a few years. Guess which approach is most likely to win. Making a dent in religious enslavement in Ghana took a decade.

  2. Prepare your arguments. Know your opponent's views and counter-arguments. Draw up point-by-point responses. Yes, it's the old tried and true Q&A (Questions and Answers). Tailor your points to the root drivers of the opposing views, provide valid alternatives to meet real needs (for how to do this, see the Motivation to Solution Strategy Tool), and justice shall prevail.

  3. Bridge degrees of separation. Sometimes you can't have access to the one you need to convince. Don't let that stop you. Take the extra step. Get someone who has the ear of the one you need to convince. Go for the one they'll listen to. If there are degrees of separation between you and those you need to persuade, build a bridge of relations. Think of other people who may help your arguments cross the water.

  4. Talk local. This one's obvious, but how often neglected. People are highly sensitive to where you talk from, especially when status dynamics are at play: urban vs. countryside, university trained vs. real-life educated, clerical vs. blue-collar, etc. Find somebody local. The job of convincing will become much easier, or simply possible.

  5. Speak from within. Those most affected by an issue will be its most powerful voice. If you're talking about a problem that has negative repercussions, show, don't tell. Rather than present an analyst's view of the adverse impacts, have someone with you who can speak directly to the experience. Real-life stories and moving testimonies will always win over abstract speculations and theoretical lectures. Bring in the victims and the survivors. If you don't, the other side may "talk for them" in their absence and use paternalistic arguments to undermine your credibility.

  6. Provide opportunities to shine. When dealing with local notables and VIP's, one tactic is to reward them with an opportunity to look really, really good coming out on your side of the argument. Use this sparingly, but wisely, to your advantage. It may help convince broader constituencies.

  7. Set up inescapable forums. I was really impressed with the number of meetings that seemed to have gone behind each small victory in the campaign to end the trokosi practice. One powerful technique was the use of village assemblies to advance the debate and enlist public support from initially reluctant allies. There were also "Liberation Ceremonies", emancipation rituals which allowed (or forced) the local priest to come out and bless publicly the release of his former female slaves. Talk about creative use of public accountability!

  8. Assemble a team. What have we got here: someone with direct contact with those you need convincing, a community spokesperson, testimony from a survivor, perhaps even respected allies from the elite. That's a team! Time to assign roles. Emile Short talks about the carrot-and-stick approach to coaxing for change. As human rights commissioner, he sometimes played the role of the stick. He brought to bear the issue of criminal prosecution for human rights violators, with a list of potential charges (good cop, bad cop anyone?). There were benefits to change, and major drawbacks to not change. It worked.

"Freedom and justice are never handed out on a silver platter, but come about by persistence and perseverance", says Emile Short. Armed with these powerful persuasion techniques, you can now add more effectual influence to your determination.

Philippe Duhamel

photo cc Dave Bezaire & Susi Havens-Bezaire

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