Persuasion: Art of a Change Agent
The word “persuasion” comes from several Latin words meaning to advise, recommend, or convince. Persuasion is the work of influencing people’s thinking. It is at the heart of what a pastor or deacon does. The pastor must be an effective persuader. We are bringing innovation to peoples lives. Our innovations include new ideas and new ways of acting. Preaching is an act of persuading. So is counseling, and evangelism, and conflict resolution, and stewardship, and justice advocacy. Persuasion is the art of selling ideas which in turn will cause others to do such things as forgive, vote, agree, join the struggle, stop, give, help, go forth, stay, participate, cooperate….
Effective pastors learn the arts of persuasion, a primary means we use to accomplish a variety of ends. Persuasion is a means of power. What are the nuts and bolts of persuasion? What are the things going on ‘behind the scenes’ we need to notice? What are the ethics of persuasive activities? How do we develop and exercise that power in faithfulness to Christ?
The following are 10 notions about persuasion.
- Persuasion is necessary when we are trying to change the story. In the Bible people are always trying to change the story: from dark to light, from death to life, from sadness to joy, from injustice to justice, from war to peace… in order to change the story, it is necessary to introduce new ways of thinking and new actions.
- Persuasion involves informing inviting and inspiring. three basic approaches to persuasion are argument, narrative, and image. Pick one as your primary approach and supplement as needed with the other two.
- An argument should be made for those who need to methodically step their way into making a commitment to your issue. When making an argument to someone, pay attention to the structure of your argument. Be sure and state your request (or thesis) and your supporting rationale. Anticipate objections to your thesis and provide rebuttal. Include sound logic. If you’ve never studied Logic in college, read a short book such as D.Q. McInery’s Being Logical: A Guide to Good Thinking.
- Telling stories or anecdotes can be very persuasive if you are trying to inspire or motivate someone. A good narrative helps people identify with the problem needing to be addressed and the hope inherent in a good solution. A good narrative helps establish a bond and deeper understanding between the story-teller and the listener. Some insights are best conveyed through narrative. Sometimes a story helps people see what is expected, bringing clarification. The “light-bulb” often goes on in a good anecdote.
- Images can inspire people and serve as clarifying metaphors. For example, if I contrast the image of a “pastor’s office” with the image of a “pastor’s study,” I might be able to persuade my colleagues to give more of a priority to reading, writing, and reflecting. A good “image” can do some heavy lifting in trying to persuade others.
- In order to persuade an individual, your request must be relevant to his or her self-interest. All of us make decisions and commitments relevant to our self-interests. In order to persuade other people, we must become acquainted with their self-interests. Such learning does not come from chatting about weather and sports. It comes from intentionally conducting a disciplined interview to help us discover that person’s concerns, needs, and issues. Only when we finally understand and include another person’s self-interests are we able to proffer a proposal with high odds that it will be accepted.
- Persuasion is a form of economic transaction. We meet a person (or group) in the “marketplace” and try to sell an idea. If the value of that idea is not clear (or wanted) by the “buyers,” then we need to make it known. How will they benefit if they “buy” our idea?
- Sometimes the benefit is primarily for the person buying the idea. It may benefit them personally, it may benefit someone important to them, or it may help them fulfill a dream or assist them in participating in something significant.
- Sometimes the benefit is a better relationship with you, the seller of the idea. When the benefit is a better relationship with you, you will only be able to influence another person to the degree that you are willing to also be influenced by them.
- Engage in persuasion intentionally, strategically, and circumspectly. In other words, look at the big picture and set your priorities: what is the next step your people need to take spiritually? Socially? Administratively? In particular, which people need to be persuaded in order for the congregation to take that next step? Don’t exhaust your political capital persuading people to buy ideas which won’t help you meet your main objectives. Focus your persuasive efforts on people who can make the most change. Ask the question of yourself: “What are the five most important things I need to persuade people of in this next year?”
- Make persuasive tasks a team effort. Collaborate with others who share your goals on a particular issue. The strength and wisdom of a collaborative effort often results in more effective persuasion.
- Do some self-reflection. When you are trying to persuade someone, how much of your ego gets tangled up in the issue? While you may think that a particular issue is important to God and to the health of the church, is it becoming more of a power struggle for you? Is your competitive nature hijacking the struggle and making “winning” too important, to the detriment of the church’s health? How do you know when you are being stubborn?
- What ethical boundaries do you observe when engaging in persuasion? How do you define abuse? Dishonesty? False friendliness? Threat? False promises? When to give up? Sore losing? Harassment? Machination? Coercion? Are any of these approaches ever acceptable?
- Before plunging into your persuasive exploits, give fore-thought to the following:
- Assess whether the people you are trying to persuade have agency. In other words, do they have the ability, capacity, resources, or intelligence to follow through on any commitments they may make to your cause? Not everyone is worth our efforts of persuasion.
- Reflect on how people see you? What are their previous experiences with you? What role do you play in their world? What accumulated power or leverage do you have with them? How much power do you have in the system? What projections, transferences, and stereotypes are they likely to place on you? How do you need to navigate all this so you can focus on the point you want to make?
- What will be the cost if you are successful in “winning?” What compromises are you willing to make to get what you want? If you “win,” what backlashes might occur? What doubts and resentments might linger in your relationships if you win?
- Decide whether you are trying to talk people into being active and enthusiastic or whether you are simply wanting compliance, their vote or permission. In other words, when you are trying to persuade someone, what is the depth of your effort? Trying to get someone to give you $1000 out of their own bank account is deeper than just trying to get someone to vote for a $1000 gift to Liberia out of a fat mission fund.
- What is the best time to embark on your persuasive efforts? Timing is everything.
- Who are the people you need to persuade? If the issue involves a group decision, who are the influential people in the group? Who are the ‘undecideds?’ Do you need to “preach to the choir?” and if so, what will you say to them? What should you say to soften the die-hard opposition, even if they will never be persuaded to do all (or anything) you want? When persuading people, which people should be your first partners?
- Some things to beware:
- It is a waste of time to use rationality to persuade someone who is mentally ill or overly emotional.
- When people get tangled up in either support or opposition to an issue, there are often hidden and complex motives for their positions. Things are not always as they appear to be. Be curious, not judgmental, or you will miss something you need to know.
- Don’t push too many things at people at one time. If you have just finished a big persuasive enterprise, allow everyone (yourself included) a little down time.
- Do not assume that you can imitate success. Someone else’s success (or your own success) in persuasion will not whole-sale into a new situation with new people. Each moment, person, and group is unique. Respect that. Remember the principles of persuasion, but don’t be rigid on your tactics.