Persuasion – and its dark version, manipulation – come in several sorts. You can use emotion, you can embellish facts, you can create trust, you can tell a good story, or use one of many other techniques.
I define 10 main categories of persuasion and manipulation. Each of these categories contains a group of related, yet different techniques. It’s good to understand when to use them, as persuasion, and when to defend against them, as manipulation.
I have also recently hosted a 45-minute webinar on this topic, which you can find here:
The 10 Categories (Overview)
These categories are:
- Consistency persuasion;
- Emotional persuasion;
- Fact persuasion;
- Standard persuasion;
- Pressure persuasion;
- Context persuasion;
- Illustration persuasion;
- Identification persuasion;
- Labeling persuasion;
- Permission persuasion;
What does each one of them mean?
- Consistency persuasion consists of trapping the person into what they have previously said or done;
- Emotional persuasion consists of changing the person’s actions through their emotions – or your emotions;
- Fact persuasion consists of convincing with appealing facts, numbers, figures;
- Standard persuasion consists of comparing things using standards, rules or criteria that are favorable to you;
- Pressure persuasion consists of putting gentle pressure on the person in some way;
- Context persuasion is about changing the options that you compare something to, or its baseline, to make it seem better or worse;
- Illustration persuasion consists of changing the perception of something – how effortful it is, how much it’s progressed, or similar;
- Identification persuasion is about making the other side feel understood, and identify with you more;
- Labeling persuasion consists of attributing positive or negative terms to change the value of something;
- Permission persuasion consists of giving or taking away someone’s persuasion to do – or think – something;
The 10 Categories (In-Depth)
Let’s examine these 10 categories in more detail:
1. Consistency PersuasionEncompasses techniques that leverage what the person has done or said before, in your favor, and that lock the person into continuing in the same direction.
This category of techniques relies on using the principle of consistency. That is, when we say something favorable towards someone, or do something, we will have a tendency to keep doing it, due to the principle of consistency. There are also other biases, such as sunk cost bias or the endowment effect, which make us tend to continue what we have already started.
Consistency persuasion becomes consistency manipulation when we use these techniques to lock someone into a course of action they don’t want, based on past achievements.
- Escalation of commitment (getting the person to do small things for you, then bigger and bigger ones);
- Intent labeling (forcing the person to state what they will do, actively, so they can’t back out of it later);
- Obstacles and tests (testing the person, which makes them more qualified if they pass the test later);
2. Emotional PersuasionEncompasses techniques that change the person’s actions by changing their emotions – in a positive or negative manner. Or that leverage your own emotions to change their actions.
This category of techniques consists of changing the person’s emotions – in a positive or negative way. For example, building hype and anticipation helps establish positive emotions, motivating the person to do something, while shaming or guilting the person helps them not take an action, out of the negative emotions.
Emotional persuasion becomes emotional manipulation when we exploit people’s emotions to make them do things against their wishes, such as inducing panic in someone needlessly, to force them to buy something, or hype them up to buy useless things.
- Potential and hype (elaborating on how good something can be);
- Removing exits (guilting the person into staying, or illustrating what they lose if they leave);
- The Dickens Pattern (illustrating both a dream and a nightmare scenario, and making the person pick between them with their present action);
3. Fact PersuasionEncompasses techniques that persuade with facts that seem good. These may include percentages, statistics, or other forms of numbers or facts that make them seem good.
This category consists of techniques that make facts look better, or more sophisticated, which persuade people more. For example, specific numbers (5.14% instead of 5%) seem more interesting, as if they were calculated scientifically, or numbers ending in 7 in price (such as $47 instead of $50) are more appealing. This applies not just to numbers, but other types of facts as well, such as something being “scientifically proven”.
Fact persuasion becomes fact manipulation when we blatantly distort facts, make them up or simply lie about them, leading people to decisions based on those facts that would be different if based on real facts.
- Statistics and percentages (using numbers with percentages, or that seem formal or aggregated in a scientific manner);
- Number increases (mentioning a decrease of 50%, for example, instead of $50 from $100);
- Specific/odd numbers (5.14% instead of 5%, for example, or $197 instead of $200);
4. Standard PersuasionEncompasses techniques that change the rules, comparisons or criteria, either to favor something, by making it seem better, or to hurt something else, making it seem worse.
This category of techniques consists of using standards or criteria that favor what we want. For example, having multiple features in a product, but comparing it to other products only based on the features that are good in ours. Or having a contract that defaults to automatic renewal. It’s about using the rules, systems and criteria to persuade someone.
Standard persuasion becomes standard manipulation when the rules are reverse-engineered to hurt someone, or lead them to a false decision. For example, a manager that wants to promote a bad performer, but that has a lot of social skills, by changing the performance criteria to give more weight to social skills and not to performance.
- Defaults (defining what happens by default if no action is taken, such as someone being charged by default at the end of the month);
- Rigidity and processes (only accepting specific prices, specific customers, specific types of purchases);
- Weights (giving more weight to characteristics you are good at, and less to those you are bad at);
5. Pressure PersuasionEncompasses techniques that apply pressure to the person, either through you, yourself, in-person, or with outside elements, such as deadlines, which put pressure on the person to diminish their critical thinking.
Pressure persuasion (unsurprisingly) consists of using pressure to convince the other side. This may be in-person, with a serious look, silences and a stern tone of voice, or it can be through artificial means, such as deadlines or limited seats.
Pressure persuasion becomes pressure manipulation when the pressure is used in an intense manner to force someone to make a decision they otherwise wouldn’t (such as signing a disadvantageous contract on the spot, with a salesperson, or making a decision to help someone while being bullied).
- Deadlines (defining a deadline for an action);
- Illustrating loss (making the person aware, in detail, of what they lose if they quit now);
- Presence (being intense and holding the tension, for example by leveraging silence, eye contact or tone of voice);
6. Context PersuasionEncompasses techniques that change the context of something, which either make it seem better or worse. They may include changing what you compare yourself to, the options that you consider, the baseline, or other elements that change how you seem, in your context.
Context persuasion consists of changing the underlying context of something, to make it seem better or worse when inserted in that context. For example, a $20 book seems more expensive if all other books are $10, but if it’s considered a “technical manual”, where others may all be $70, it now seems super cheap in comparison.
Context persuasion becomes context manipulation when we change the context of something, or take it out of context, to lead the person to make a decision they otherwise wouldn’t if they had all the information available.
- Perceived contrast (comparing yourself to things that are worse to make yourself seem better, for example);
- Changing the option set (out of a set of options, defining which you compare yourself to, which are usually the ones that make you seem better);
- Being in your own league (positioning yourself in a way in which you have no peers, and are the only one there);
7. Illustration PersuasionEncompasses techniques that use suggestion to illustrate something as easy to do, which persaude more. They can make something seem more effortful, easier to do, or just give more exposure to positive elements.
Illustration persuasion consists of using suggestion make something seem better in some way. Making it seem easier to do, making it seem like it has more momentum, making it seem like the person has already made a lot of progress, and so on.
Illustration persuasion becomes illustration manipulation when suggestion is used to illustrate misleading scenarios (such as a person being able to win a big prize that actually has a 0.0001% chance of occurring) or using other types of suggestion that distort the actual facts.
- Streamlining words (using words and expressions that make something seem simpler and less effortful, such as “quick”, “simple”, “just 2 steps”, and so on);
- Illustrating progress (making something seem like it’s in progress, such as saying you’re already at step 5 of 6, or that you’re already 95% of the way there);
- Visualisation (illustrating how good something can be, but not how bad, anchoring the person to the positive potential);
8. Identification PersuasionEncompasses techniques that make the person feel identification or bonding with you, which persuades them more easily. Can include having common ground, empathy, or many other techniques.
Identification persuasion consists of doing anything that makes the other side identify with you more. You can use empathy, show commonalities, mirror their words, talk about their characteristics, or anything else that makes them bond with you.
Identification persuasion becomes identification manipulation when you are leveraging fake commonalities, made up by you, or you’re making up experiences and traits you don’t have, or you’re otherwise making the other side identify with you so they drop their guard and you take advantage of them.
- Mirroring (repeating the person’s words or gestures back at them to make them feel similar to you);
- Common ground (mentioning similar personality traits, or similar experiences to the other person);
- Empathy (showing understanding of the other side, which disarms them and makes them cooperate with you more);
9. Labeling PersuasionEncompasses techniques that attribute positive or negative labels to something, which make it seem more or less valuable, such as changing adjectives, giving or taking away names, and so on.
Labeling persuasion consists of using specific words or expressions to persuade more – either by using words to make something seem more valuable, or to make something else seem less valuable. Attributing specific names, using specific expressions, using the right words for the person, and so on.
Labeling persuasion becomes labeling manipulation when we use words that are too extreme – or misleading – for what we are describing, or when we use those words or expressions to lead the person into an action they would otherwise not take.
- Humanising and dehumanising (the presence of a name humanises, so attributing – or revealing – the names of products, team members, and others persuades more than not mentioning them);
- Identity planting (telling the other side they have a characteristic, such as being “adventurous”, and then persuading them to act because they have that trait);
- Dog whistles (specific words and expressions that attract very particular crowds that you want);
10. Permission PersuasionEncompasses techniques that make the person feel like they have the permission to do something (such as buy), or that take away their permission. We can also give – or take away – permission to think something, instead of doing something.
Permission persuasion consists of using techniques to give someone psychological permission to do something, or to take it away. For example, making the person panic takes away their permission to relax, leading them to making rash decisions. Or using deadlines takes away the person’s permission to buy this later, needing to buy now.
Permission persuasion becomes permission manipulation when we give the person permission to do something harmful, or take away their permission to do something good for them. For example, politicians making people panic take away their permission to be relaxed, and mentally well, to lead them to vote, or take other types of action.
- Reassuring (reassuring someone comforts them, giving them permission to relax and feel safe with you);
- Removing exits (shaming or guilting the person into staying, or illustrating what they lose removes their permission to leave);
- Authority (having authority of credentials gives the other side permission to trust you and not evaluate you, compromising their critical thinking);
These 10 families encompass most – or all – persuasion techniques you can find, whether to sell, communicate, or persuade in other contexts.
For more information on all persuasion techniques I leverage – 58 in total, distributed among these 10 categories – head to the Ultimate Persuasion Psychology course page.