Monday, October 13, 2008

The Lost Art (or Science) of Persuasion

Years ago, I read a fascinating article on the work of Dr. Robert Cialdini.  Dr. Cialdini has spent his life conducting extensive research and study on the science of persuasion.  Are there actually scientifically proven principles that optimize our ability to persuade another person?   Cialdini believes so and he has codified six basic principles of persuasion -

1. Reciprocity - If you do something for me, I'm more likely to do something for you.
2. Scarcity -   What's more appealing - a slice of apple pie or the last slice of apple pie?
3. Consistency - Make a public commitment and you'll be compelled to live up to it.
4. Authority - If Dr. Robert Cialdini says so, it's got to be true, right?
5. Consensus - we're like lemmings...or sheep...we like to follow the crowd.
6. Likeability - if you like someone, you inclined to want to agree with them. 

I've found it incredibly insightful and I've carried the article around for years.  
I wonder if there's a connection to our cultural engagement as Christians.  When it comes to engaging the culture,  we're not into reasoning and persuasion anymore - at least not in the public square.   It's far easier to polarize around moral issues and feel like we're "standing up for Christ".    Perhaps it's more satisfying to draw battle lines than to engage our neighbor thoughtfully about his eternal destiny.   

As I've been reading through Acts, it struck me that Paul engaged the culture in a different way altogether. In Acts 17, while in Athens, he "reasoned in the well as in the marketplace day by day..."  In Acts 18, arriving in Ephesus, he "went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews".   In Acts 19, returning back to Ephesus, he "entered the synagogue and spoke boldly with them for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God".

I'm absolutely not suggesting that incorporating these principles will lead to conversions (that's a work of God alone), nor am I saying that it will lead to broad Christian influence in our communities.   But perhaps, there is some wisdom in Cialdini's work that could apply to how we might engage our world more effectively.  

What do you think?


Ted M. Gossard said...

ESI, Thanks, and I find some general revelational wisdom in his words that spills over into special revelation which we find and you cite a bit, in Scripture.

I see Christians bash others with a message not only hard in Jesus, but theologically suspect, at least in the way they're doing it. But they're of the theological persuasion that God has his number of elect and if you're in that number you'll make it, so they're not concerned that much, I'm guessing, with the way they come across.

Though it is a work of God and not of us, yet we are in this work of God, together with him (2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2). Paul was imploring there, and I like the examples you cite. Paul became all things to all people that he might by all possible means, save some (1 Corintians 9:22).

One thought that comes to my mind here is that people need to see Jesus in us by the work of the Spirit. They need to see God's grace or pick something up of that, and then they'll be ready as God does his work on their hearts, to receive the truth as it is in Jesus. Just my few thoughts on this and will quit. But thanks for this stimulating posting.

Every Square Inch said...


Yes - persuasion rather than confrontation is sometimes more effective. In fact, we have an obligation to persuade and be as winsome as possible, rather than being offensive.

Real Live Preacher said...

Excellent post. I've thought much the same, though not as carefully worded. Ironically, when you share your story and do NOT try to sell people on Jesus, people are much more likely to express an interest.

L.L. Barkat said...

I think that's fascinating. Common sense in a way, but fascinating. And of course my mind goes naturally to business, not the bible. (Maybe that's an interesting thing too?)

Every Square Inch said...

RLP - thanks, I guess "selling"people on Jesus probably isn't biblical evangelism

LL - Cialdini did his research and it's been applied broadly in business - for the purposes of selling and negotiating so it's not surprising that your thoughts went in that direction. However I was intrigued about what we might learn in applying it in the realm of biblical persuasion

Sam Van Eman said...

ESI, I'm wondering if you have a link to the article by Cialdini.

Also, I subscribe to your posts via e-mail and I enjoy reading them. Are you a member of High Calling Blogs? I'd like to consider featuring one of your posts, but I think you need to be a member and have a badge in your sidebar.

Let me know at samvaneman AT gmail DOT com

Keep up the good work.

Every Square Inch said...

Sam - unfortunately I do not...but I remember it being an article in Scientific American and it was around 2001?? The title of the article was strangely titled Torre Adoring or something like that. It was a tribute to how Joe Torre used these principles.

I am a member of HC Blogs but I haven't gotten round to featuring the badge but you're providing a good reminder.

Sam Van Eman said...

Thanks for the reply. I featured this post over at High Calling Blogs. You should see it in the next week.

Keep up with the good work!