Persuasion can be considered as one of the great ivory thrones of influence because with persuasion, you can convince a person to change his mind and adapt your view.
Persuasion generally comes from without than from within. Understanding how persuasion works is like finding the key to the human mind. To understand what goes on in the human mind when you are trying to persuade someone is like discovering the roadmap to mastering persuasion.
There are many theories regarding persuasion but at the very root of these theories is the fact that people generally have two ways of processing information from the outside world: the central route and the peripheral route.
With the central route, a person who is receiving the stimulus or information will act like a naïve scientist. He will carefully think about the input and he will make a decision based on his theories.
With the peripheral route, the person receiving the information or stimulus will not pursue the critical path. Instead, he will choose to take a thin slice of the stimulus so he can compare it with whatever readily available information he has in his memory. In this regard, a person becomes a cognitive miser yet again.
What‟s the difference between the naïve scientist and the cognitive miser when it comes to persuasion? There is a big difference!
The naïve scientist will pay close attention not only to the message itself but also to the way it was delivered, etc. The naïve scientist is also interested in the why and how of the message.
The cognitive miser on the other hand, will do the direct opposite. Instead of paying close attention to the actual message, cognitive misers will be more interested in receiving small cues that will tell them whether or not the message is worth considering or not.
Figuring Out Which Route a Person Will Take
We now know that there are two possible routes when it comes processing persuasive information – the peripheral route and the central route.
Earlier in our exploration of heuristics, we discovered that there are common factors that affect a person‟s decision to become a cognitive miser instead of being naïve scientist.
While these factors (like lack of time) can be used to determine whether a person will use heuristics or critical analysis, there are other factors that come into play. These factors are:
– Speech rate – Mood – Involvement – Individual difference – Humor
Speech rate has a major effect on how a person processes persuasive information. You know why?
Because if a person cannot follow what you are saying, he will not become a naïve scientist and in the process, he will choose to ignore most of the content of your message in favor of cues that will allow him to analyze only „thin slices‟ of the whole message.
Usually, a person who is unable to follow a speedy persuasive message will only take note of the number of arguments present and make a decision based on this number.
Mood, surprisingly, also has a determining role in persuasion. Let us zero in on two important moods – the happy mood and the unhappy mood.
When you‟re happy, you feel light, carefree and you feel like you are on top of the world. You will feel like there is nothing in this world (or the Universe) that can bring you down because you are so happy at the moment.
Now take this mindset and imagine yourself in a situation where another person is trying to persuade you to do something.
Will you stop and analyze what the other person is saying to you? Or will you just barely follow what the other person is saying and just say yes? The answer of course, is usually the latter.
Happy people tend to choose the peripheral route in processing persuasive messages. Inversely, unhappy people are more critical. By „unhappy‟ we refer to individuals who feel sad, depressed, worried, scared, angry, anxious, etc. A person who is presently experiencing any negative emotion should be considered an unhappy person.
I am placing emphasis on this important distinction because unhappy people tend to become critical of persuasive messages because deep down, they are aware that something is not right with their lives.
Deep down, unhappy people are on the alert because something is not balanced and this incongruence between their reality and their needs and expectations will awaken the naïve scientist in unhappy people.
I am not saying that you need to make your audience unhappy before you can convince them to do something.
What I am saying here is that if you find yourself in the presence of a happy person, there is a bigger chance of being able to persuade that person because he will most likely take the peripheral route.
That means all you have to worry about at that point in time would be to relay your message well and provide sound arguments so the other person will agree more quickly (since he is a cognitive miser at the moment and he is using heuristics instead of critical processing).
Now when you are looking at the involvement factor you are actually looking at the impact of the persuasive message to the other person‟s self-concept. To illustrate this point, evaluate the two statements below:
Statement # 1: I have something that might improve your business in two to three years.
Statement # 2: Do you want to retire a millionaire? How about mansion in Beverly Hills? An island getaway all to yourself and that special someone? I have the key – and I can give it to you right now if you want it. After reading the two statements, which statement do you think has a more palpable impact to another person‟s self-concept?
Let’s analyze the two statements. The first statement has a forward- thinking angle that emphasizes that a business will become stable with whatever is being offered in a few years.
The second statement opens with a question (this creates instant interest in the audience because it relates directly to one of basic needs, which is financial stability and of course, the survival needs) and also offers tantalizing potential realities to the audience.
After presenting all of the goodies, the statement ends with an open- ended sentence that creates a two-fold impression on the other person. The other person has two choices. His first choice is he can take the „key‟ and live the millionaire‟s lifestyle, as promised by the statement. The second choice is he can choose not to take the key and he will gain nothing.
Notice that all of the components of the second statement focus on genuine needs and desires of people.
With a touch of extravagance, a persuasive fantasy is created and the audience is presented with a tantalizing opportunity to rise above the rest in terms of financial security. And yet, we should remember, the statement isn‟t even real to begin with.
What‟s real to the audience is the fantasy and emotions that it invokes instantly – and so the audience will automatically focus on the second statement more than the first statement because there is much more at stake in the second statement than the first statement.
Now let us talk about the fourth factor, which are individual differences. This factor is fairly straightforward: people are different, right?
Some people prefer taking the central route (critical thinking) while some people are more likely to stick with the „default‟ route, which is the peripheral (auto-pilot) route.
So in essence, some people are naïve scientists most of the time while some feel that they are better off being cognitive misers because they can save their cognitive resources for more important times. Naïve scientists have a higher need for cognition while cognitive misers have a lower cognition requirement to get through their days.
It is also worthwhile to note that people who self-monitor more frequently are more likely to take the critical route in processing persuasive messages.
Self-monitoring is simply the degree at which a person is concerned with what other people are think about himself. If you are the kind who doesn‟t really care about what other people think, then you are most likely a cognitive miser most of the time.
And finally, we have the humor factor. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “humor” as: something that is or is designed to be comical or amusing. Let‟s face it – we like dropping jokes every now and then.
Laughing makes people feel good and we know for a fact that humor can be a powerful tool when you are trying to communicate to critical individuals. So be careful when you are trying to influence people with your words because the wrong kind of humor can elicit the wrong type of response from people.
If you want your audience to have critical response to your message (i.e. you want them to really think about the benefits that you are offering to them) you have to craft related humorous items so a more critical response is triggered.
If you simply want to put your audience at ease, then you are better off with non-related humor. That is, you need to drop jokes and humorous anecdotes that do not relate to the topic/s that you are presently tackling. Non-related humor does not trigger the usage of the central route.