More Advanced Techniques of Persuasion

If you are having success with basic and intermediate persuasive techniques but want to expand your repertoire, it is time to explore advanced techniques. Successful use of these techniques requires critical thinking, strategic assessment, and excellent delivery. It may take you some time to recognize situations where these techniques are appropriate and how to target the types of people who will best be reached by these techniques.

Ad Hominem

This Latin language phrase simply means "against the man." The ad Hominem technique is a defensive technique primarily used by attacking the competition. This technique, however, is slightly different in that the attack does not contain any relevant assessment. Rather, the actual issue at hand is completely ignored and instead unrelated characteristics or issues are attacked. In simple terminology, it is similar to the concept of shooting the messenger; the messenger is not responsible for the message but an attack on the messenger may divert attention away from whatever the actual issue is. Ultimately, ad Hominem relies on misdirection and the likelihood that people will fall for it.

The ad Hominem technique is frequently used in elections where it is used similarly to the slippery slope technique where one (real or perceived) characteristic about a candidate is used to assume other characteristics or beliefs. One of the reasons that the ad Hominem technique is so successful is because people often disagree as to what information is relevant. If a politician running as governor has had an extramarital affair, many people believe that an opposing candidate focusing on that is employing the ad Hominem technique as the affair is presumably unrelated to the candidate's ability to perform job responsibilities such as balancing the budget, overseeing executive functions, and so on. Alternatively, other people may believe that the affair represents the candidate's character and believe that this issue is relevant; these scenarios typically represent the most effective use of ad Hominem behaviors.

The Big Lie

Politicians and world leaders have long known about the use of the Big Lie. This technique operates on the understanding that it is easier to get people to support or believe one big lie as opposed to several small ones. There are several social psychology aspects at play in the Big Lie. First, part of human nature dictates that we all want to belong; this is the same reason that persuasive techniques like bandwagon are so successful. Social phenomena like groupthink also play a considerable role in the Big Lie. The Big Lie does not always have to involve dire circumstances but it can, as evidenced when Hitler delivered it. The Big Lie is why you should always question your assumptions.


Diversion is a technique that is similar to ad Hominem but is usually less aggressive (and thus more ethical). Although diversion can certainly be used unethically, it also is a great way to persuade people in particular circumstances. When you use diversion, you are essentially performing a (hopefully) more convincing version of, "Oh my gosh look over there!" while you take their money, hit them, or whatever your preferred slapstick movie does. Also referred to as a red herring, diversion is designed to throw people off. This can be a very helpful way to distract or dissuade someone.


Groupthink occurs when all of the members of a group get stuck in one particular way of thinking or behaving despite the fact that the individuals would not do the same thing on their own. Sometimes, in a group we simply want to belong so we go along with things, while other times the dynamics of the group setting simply alters our thinking patterns and we become locked into one mode. In groupthink, typically speaking, both of these things are occurring together on a subconscious level. We get caught up in the moment and in the energy of the group. We end up trusting decisions that are made because everyone else seems to trust them or we think it is okay to act a certain way because everyone else does. Groupthink itself is very dangerous but when it is combined with people or ideas that are charismatic and lack conscience, it can quite literally be deadly. When in doubt, take a moment to think rationally, ignore impulse, and ask yourself whether you would make the same decision if you were alone.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Persuasion Techniques course?
Polls and Statistics

Polls and statistics are used to persuade people all the time. After all, it combines the most convincing aspects of expert testimony and the bandwagon technique. Statistics usually imply some level of a scientific approach whereas polls usually gauge thoughts or beliefs of individuals or groups of people. And theoretically, it makes sense, people want to know what others think and they certainly want to know what scientists or experts think.

Nevertheless, there are few (if any) individuals with education in social sciences that lend much credence to typical statistics and polls. Anyone who has taken a statistics class knows that for something to be considered statistically significant requires only a minimal percentage difference. Such differences are very important under the right circumstances, but most of the statistics the average person will see may be complete fiction. That is not to say that the person doing the poll or evaluating the statistics is lying or is unethical; the reality is that an individual's response to any question will vary considerably based on the way the question is asked. The format of the question, the way the question is worded, the optional answers, the person asking the question, and so forth all effect how any respondent is likely to answer. Unfortunately, most of the so called statistics or polls that you see are essentially worthless. As the joke goes, "According to Abraham Lincoln, 67-percent of people believe what they read on the Internet."

Reverse Psychology

Over time, more and more people have become familiar with the persuasive technique commonly called reverse psychology. Reverse psychology is simply a technique that essentially tricks a person into doing what you want by pretending that it is not what you want, is what you do not want, or is something that you do not want as much as something else. This technique is used in movies and television a lot and typically is very easy to recognize. One such example might be a parent who wants their child to eat his broccoli. When the parent tries to put broccoli on the child's plate, the kid wrinkles his nose and says that he does not want it. The parent then says, "Great! I was hoping you would not want your broccoli tonight so I can eat it all!" Theoretically, the child now decides that he does want his broccoli since obviously it must be wonderful or else Dad would not want it all. With young children and very gullible people, this technique can be effective but if you attempt to use it on an astute individual, not only may you fail in your persuasion but you may come across looking foolish as well.

Scapegoating is such a simple idea that the youngest child knows how to do it. Every parent, teacher, or babysitter has caught a child breaking a rule or found something wrong and the child automatically points his finger (literally or figuratively) at his sibling, pet, parent, or somewhere else. For this reason, this simplistic persuasive concept is actually very challenging to execute effectively (depending on your target audience). Obviously, the most successful way to use scapegoating is when it is actually plausible that the person or thing you were blaming can be responsible and you are unlikely to get caught in the lie. For example, imagine that you are responsible for paying the bills but you forget to pay on your credit card. When a representative from the company calls you to ask about the missing payment, you quickly say, I'm so sorry; my wife pays the bills. I will make sure we put a check in the mail tonight." By not owning up to your mistake, you have just saved yourself an argument or a lecture from the credit card company. Scapegoating can be used on a small scale (such as this example) or on a large scale, such as one branch of the government always pointing the blame at another branch.
Persuasive Writing

When it comes to writing persuasively, the basic concepts of persuasion hold true. Nonetheless, there are some different factors that you have to take into consideration when writing something designed to persuade. In fact, writing persuasively can be much more difficult than persuading someone in person or even over the phone.

First, as always, consider timing and audience. Depending upon what you are writing about and where your writing will appear, you may be able to make some assumptions about your audience. Unfortunately, this may not always hold true. Consider the example of a grant and proposal writer who receives an e-mail requesting that she submit a proposal to work with a non-profit organization. She may write a proposal that is full of industry jargon as she assumes that the organization is familiar with these terms; she may then find out that they are a new organization without much experience. In this type of situation, the organization may choose to go with a different writer who used more simplistic language. Alternatively, if she writes a proposal using simple language and the organization management is very experienced, they may interpret for lack of jargon as a lack of knowledge about the field.

In this situation, either the writer has little information to go on and must choose to take a firm approach on one side or the other or she may decide to try to work out a proposal on some middle ground. In some situations, playing it safe and going for the middle ground is a smart choice while in some situations, taking a big risk can have big rewards.
Another common challenge with persuasive writing is that in the written word, nuance may be hard to convey and detect. Most of us have been in situations where an e-mail or text message is taken out of context or misinterpreted as being serious when it was sarcastic, threatening when it was joking, and so on. When you write persuasively, it is best to be hypersensitive to this type of issue.

When you write persuasively, especially within a professional context, you also have to be extremely careful not to write anything that could be interpreted as coercive, threatening, harassment, or misrepresentation.While you certainly should not do those things when speaking to people either, if something is misinterpreted you certainly do not want it to be in writing which could then be used as evidence against you. Harassment in particular does not always have to be proven to have been threatening, if the recipient feels harassed, your remarks can be used against you even if they would not be interpreted as such by anyone else.

Timing is not always something you can control when it comes to persuasive writing either. Although you may submit a written statement or request at a certain time, it may not be read by your intended target at the time you assume it will be.

Depending on the subject matter, persuasive writing does offer many benefits. Infinitely more people that may be available to hear you speak can potentially read a document. Persuasive writing also allows you the opportunity to make your case without interruption or dissent (at least at the particular moment that it is first read). For people dealing with emotional or difficult situations, writing down their thoughts and opinions gives them a podium from which to speak, so to say, that they might not have or be with a particular audience or for a particular length of time.

Persuasive writing also allows for a more carefully thought out approach. When engaging in a dialogue, an effective persuader has to be fast thinking, confident, and preferably charismatic. However, when you write persuasively, you are given time to carefully construct your argument, evaluate the use of different techniques, and even have other people who agree with you read it and give you feedback. People with stage fright, people who are not particularly fast thinkers, people who become emotionally overwhelmed about the topic, and many other types of people find that writing persuasively allows them a better opportunity to succeed in their efforts.

Be sure that when writing persuasively, every word is carefully considered. In addition to protecting yourself from misinterpretation, you are also helping to protect your reputation and reinforce the idea that you should be taken seriously. Something as simple as an e-mail request to a coworker may travel all the way up the food chain to the CEO, and you would certainly want your intent and purpose to be clear, your ideas or feelings clearly expressed, and your e-mail to be composed of complete sentences and coherent thoughts. Despite the rise of terms and expressions used via text and internet, your attempts at persuasion will be undermined by use of terms like totes, bro, and roflmao.

There are many tips and tricks that you can use to be persuasive,regardless of what type of audience you have. Knowing your audience, timing yourself just right, and using the correct technique, can be highly effective. Remember to engage in ethical persuasion and catch yourself before you go too far.