In analyzing the persuasion as an innovative study of communication and social pressure, it is important that the concepts of persuasion, private communication, and social pressure be analyzed in detail with a view to establishing the relationship between persuasion and the other elements.
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Persuasion is a central phenomenon in the daily activities of most individuals. It simply means the influencing an individual or individuals to act or think in a certain manner (Larson, 2010). The central component of persuasion is the use of words or strategic communication with the aim of appealing to people’s emotions or minds into adopting the advocated set of attitudes or beliefs. The persuasion process is therefore considered to be complete when it results in the change of mind or actions of the persons being persuaded in conformity with the wishes of the persuader (Larson, 2010). The uses of persuasion are observed on a daily basis as observed when firms advertise to influence customers to consume their products and as individuals seek consent from others to undertake certain activities. The main objective of any persuasion exercise is to get individuals or parties to conform to a given set of practices in order to satisfy the persuader’s desires.
Persuasion has been fronted by scholars as the best option when considered among other alternatives such as coercion, use of force and apathy (Johannesen, 2010). Apathy refers to a laid-back approach where individuals ignore their wants hoping that the desires will be noticed by others and acted upon in line with their wishes (Larsen, 2010). This approach is highly unproductive as it leaves individuals at the mercy of others where their needs are met only at the pleasure of other people. Individuals could also opt to use force to get others to meet their desires. This approach is potentially harmful and is bound to run into problems with the legal and ethical expectations of the society. It can also lead to half-hearted attempts at meeting the desires, negative sentiments against the persuader, and can even provoke retaliation which may result in great harm and loss to the persuader. As Perloff (2003) concurs, the best approach for obtaining conformity and cooperation of others in meeting individuals’ needs is through persuasion. Once persuaded, individuals take action on their own accord and they would tend to show full commitment to these adopted ways hence ensuring desired results. This signals the success of a persuasion process.
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Persuasion involves a sequence of logical steps that potentially lead to the attainment of the desires of the individual or persuader. The first step involves the identification and refining of the objectives and desires. The process of refining these desires involves rationalization to ensure that they are achievable and that they require the cooperation of others in order to be satisfied. The second stage involves the identification of the individuals that can help meet these objectives. They must be in possession of the means necessary to achieve the set goals and must as well be individuals or parties that can be reached through the various means of communication that are considered effective (McGuire, 2000). The third and perhaps the most crucial step is the formulation of the message intended at influencing the target audience to meet the persuader’s goals. This stage is the thrust of the persuasion process as it caters for the substance relevant to appeal to the audience’s emotions and interest as it seeks to get them to change their attitudes and act in a way necessary to meet the persuader’s goals.
The formulation of the message requires that sufficient knowledge of the audience is sought (McGuire, 2000). This enables the persuader to understand their attitudes, beliefs and values that may affect the ease with which they can be persuaded to act in a certain manner. The knowledge also enables the persuader to be aware of the interests of the audience and can thereby be able to use it to suit the persuasion goals. The fourth stage involves the conveyance of the message. This means the mode of communication that the persuader would choose to relay the message formulated to the target audience. This may be through one-on-one communications, meetings, letters, phone calls, and mass media, among others. The knowledge of the target audience enables the persuader to determine which communication modes are likely to invoke the desired change of attitude effectively (Larson, 2010). The choice of the mode also determines the cost and the level of preparation required to ensure effective relaying of the messages.
Private communication has variously been defined as electronic communication normally intended for the recipient to the exclusion of other parties (McGuire, 2000). However, in the context of this discussion, private communication must be redefined to mean communication messages formulated and channeled to a specific target audience. Effective communication bears all the elements of strategy ranging from analysis of intention, identification of the audience, designing of content and complexity of the message, and determination of the acceptable modes of communication (McGuire, 2000). These messages would normally be communicated through means that ensure maximum exposure to the target audience to the exclusion (or minimal exposure) of others. The choice of the audience is specific to the communication objectives and the message communicated as well as the channels used in the communication have the target audience in mind.
The main aim of any communication process is to generate meaning, promote understanding and influence attitudes and behavior. Communication requires the existence of understanding between the engaging parties in order to promote quick understanding and meaningful communication. A good communicator must be able to understand the attitudes of their audience and prepare accordingly to utilize supporting attitudes as well as countering negative attitudes with the aim of ensuring attitudinal barriers to the communication process are effectively dissolved (Albarracin, Wallace and Glasman, 2004). The understanding also requires that the communicator understands the special interests of their audience in the subject matter in order to ensure effective delivery of successful communication process. Good communication skills also require that the parties involved keep in mind the objective of the communication process and thereby select messages that can easily generate concurrence and support from the other parties.
The mode of communication chosen in private communication also needs to reflect the preferences of the parties communicating. For instance, where a party to the communication prefer meetings to written mails, the person initiating the communication is most likely to arrange for a meeting to facilitate the discussions. These aspects of communication are in essence the components of persuasion and the study of persuasion delves into the essentials of good and effective communication skills between individuals and parties. The understanding of persuasion is therefore closely linked to close understanding of the communication process. A good persuader is also a good and skilled communicator. Persuasion reinvents the art of communication by emphasizing on the importance of generating understanding, changing attitudes, and generally moving the audience in the desired direction. Unlike the concept of private communication, persuasion assumes a highly dynamic approach to communication laying emphasis on intrinsic human behavior and focusing on the essential processes necessary for reinforcing or changing these human aspects to suit the desired persuasion goals (Albarracin, Wallace and Glasman, 2004).
Where a group of individuals make a choice on specific activities or actions, the uncertain group members tend to move in conformity with the majority of the group members. This conformity stems from social pressure. According to Larsen (2010), social pressure refers to a perceived level of expectations on an individual based on what the members of the society consider acceptable or not (societal norms). The most common example of social pressure is peer pressure. Members of various social groups tend to highly value their belonging to such groups in order to maintain the social status and well being. The question of conformity or compliance also comes into play when identifying the effects of social pressure. Compliance implies that the group members change their private beliefs and attitudes to be in line with the group norms (Orina, Wood and Simpson, 2002). It is possible for group members to conform to the group norms while privately holding on to their beliefs in certain issues. Individuals conform to group norms for two main reasons. Firstly, they do so to avoid rejection or isolation, and secondly, uncertainty on what to do in certain circumstances makes them look up to their peers for guidance. These influences can be referred to as normative and informational influences respectively.
To ensure the success of a persuasion process, the persuader needs to understand the characteristics of the target audience including their interests (Crano and Prislin, 2006). Where the persuader opts to target a social group to drive his agenda, the communication channels as well as the deep-seated beliefs of the group members must be taken into account. The understanding of these group norms helps the persuader to estimate the level of resistance to be expected against the ideas that the persuader intends to introduce to the group. The knowledge of the level of influence the group has on the decisions of individual members serves as a motivation for persuasion (Orina, Wood and Simpson, 2002). This is due to the fact that the social pressure ensures conformity and would be instrumental in ensuring that the members embrace new norms in case the persuasion process is successful. The knowledge of the fact that conformity does not always mean a change of private belief among members serves as an encouragement to persuaders who view the loophole as an indication that their ideas are likely to receive support from such members within the groups. To ensure successful persuasion, the persuader must also be aware of the preferred modes of communication and the channels thereof that are expected to yield the greatest results (Albarracin, 2002). Groups may either prefer informal discussions or formal meetings and the persuader must be well aware of these preferences to remain relevant.
The language of use in social groups is another important component that the persuader must be well versed with. The use of language and non verbal communication techniques must be noted to ensure the target audience can identify with the persuader and hence hasten attitude change. The level of literacy in the social groups also determines the approach that a persuader must take when introducing their ideas (Orina, Wood and Simpson, 2002). For instance, a highly educated group would prefer intense arguments backed with verifiable facts in support of the new assertions before they even begin to take such a persuader seriously. The concept of persuasion as relates to the understanding of social groups and social pressure introduces a creative model with which to analyze these groups hence giving an exhaustive view of any targeted social group. The threshold for persuasion is so high that it requires that the characteristics of the social groups and the individual members’ values and beliefs be intensively and accurately analyzed.
As has been observed, the understanding of persuasion in relation to private communication and social pressure requires in-depth knowledge about the two components. In order to be persuade an individual or a group, it is crucial to understand their beliefs, interest, modes of communication, language and other aspects. The process of influencing entrenched beliefs in a given direction often requires excellent communication skills and an astute demonstration of understanding of the target audience. The pursuance of the concept of persuasion is tantamount to re-innovation of the studies relating to communication and social pressure as it stretches beyond the basic characteristics of the elements and delves deeper into the psychological and behavioral aspects of the audience. It promotes creativity in the analysis as it challenges the persuader to not only analyze the characteristics accurately, but also consider the nature and level of influence that the identified characteristics would have on any attempt to effect behavioral and psychological change in the target audience.
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Albarracin, D. (2002). Cognition in Persuasion: An analysis of information processing in response to persuasive communications. In M.P Zanna (Ed). Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 34, 61-130
Albarracin, D., Wallace, H. M., & Glasman, L. R. (2004). Survival and Change of attitudes and other social judgments: A model of activation and comparison. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 36, 252-315
Crano,W., & Prislin, R. (2006). Attitudes and Persuasion. Retrieved March 30, 2011 from: http://www.psychology.sdsu.edu/new-web/facultystaff/Prislin_pdfs/annurev.psych.57.102904.pdf
Johannesen, R.L. (2010).Perspectives on Ethics in Persuasion. Retrieved March 30, 2011 from: http://www.wadsworthmedia.com/marketing/sample_chapters/0534619029_ch02.pdf
Larson, C. (2010). Persuasion: Reception and Responsibility. Wadsworth: Cengage Learning. Retrieved from: http://books.google.co.ke/books?id=v29XIzDKGDoC&pg=PA80&lpg=PA80&dq=what+is+persuasion+and+private+communication&source=bl&ots=dJiqTGb3o3&sig=TXhuUnJjCce4QtgPsDIWEMYBLaw&hl=en&ei=8KOTTaqxJI_tObWTwcEH&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CBYQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=what%20is%20persuasion%20and%20private%20communication&f=true
McGuire, W.J. (2000). Standing on the shoulders of ancients: Consumer research, persuasion, and rhetorical language. Journal of Consumer Research. , 27, 109-114
Orina, M.M., Wood, W., & Simpson, J.A. (2002). Strategies of influence in close relationships. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 38, 459-472
Perloff, R. M. (2003). The Dynamics of Persuasion. Communication and Attitudes in the 21st Century. (2nd Ed.). Mahwh, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates