Persuasion is a powerful tool. When communicating with others, we have the ability to appeal to emotions and logic to convince someone of a position. Great thinkers like Aristotle dedicated their lives to defining and investigating persuasion. Today, we use the skill in pitching ideas, during job interviews, or even in our personal lives. For persuasion to be effective, we must establish credibility. The best way to accomplish that task is through research. Below are some ways you can bolster your position and enhance persuasion.
The Science of Persuasion
Psychologists have dedicated careers to the study of persuasion. Robert Cialdini is one of the most well-known experts, publishing his book “Influence: The Study of Persuasion” back in 1984. In it, he describes six principles of the process. This includes tools like authority, social proof, and consistency, suggesting that people are most persuaded when the speaker seems credible. A study published in the journal Communication Research found that statistical information is more convincing than story-based evidence. All this to say that supporting your arguments through research doesn’t dilute them – it actually makes them stronger.
Finding the Right Source for Persuasion
When diving into research for an argument, it’s important to rely on authoritative sources. Nothing is worse than making a passionate argument, only to find that there’s a factual error in your statements. Think of the fact-checking that occurs during political debates, and how quickly someone’s credibility crumbles when it’s revealed they’re spewing nonsense. When seeking out these sources, it’s vital to consider issues like bias, satire, or just general fake news. This is especially true in the age of the web, where it can be difficult to pin down the accuracy of information. In an effort to make this process easier, writer Joe Barker published a list of six criteria for evaluating sources. Though it was written more than a decade ago, the points are still just as relevant. Check to see if your resources have:
- Authority: Who’s responsible for publishing the source? Is the information known to be reliable?
- Accuracy: Does the writer cite their own sources? Is the work free of typographical errors?
- Objectivity: Is the content devoid of bias? Are there statements of intent for the source?
- Currency: Is there an indication of when the source was published or updated last?
- Coverage: How do you evaluate the work itself? Is the piece well-written with arguments supported by fact?
- Appearance: Does the site look well-organized? Do links and buttons work?
Though there is a lot of leg work that goes into sourcing your research, this list is a great start.
Balancing Data and Storytelling
While credible sources and diligent research benefits persuasion, it’s not the only factor. Humans respond to emotional appeals and storytelling. That’s why it’s helpful to think about how and when to use research in your arguments. It’s easy for the audience to simply tune out when all they hear is data. As Homer Simpson once said, “Oh people can come up with statistics to prove anything. Forty percent of all people know that.” The important part is to tether your research to a narrative so that individuals not only understand the information, but also why it’s so important.
In another study performed by Robert Cialdini, a hotel chain was attempting to cut down on water and energy costs. After research showed that asking guests to reuse their towels would drastically cut spending, the hotel knew this would be a great way to reach its goals. However, research also found that individuals were 26 percent more likely to reuse their towels if they were told other guests did the same. With that in mind, the company simply created a campaign advertising this practice. The result? A lower usage of water and energy across the board. By using data and a story to inform its argument, rather than simply listing stats, the company successfully persuaded the audience.
Supporting your persuasive arguments with research is always a great idea. Not only does it lend credibility, but it can expose you to other perspectives. Blending the background data with a concrete narrative creates powerful emotional response for listeners. Even in this blog, we’ve used research to persuade you to use research for persuasion! Very meta, indeed.