Apply Advanced Persuasion Techniques

When you master your ability to set your overarching position and structure your supporting argument, you can apply advanced persuasion techniques to bolster your effectiveness. While there are numerous persuasion theories that can inform your strategy, here we cover three basic approaches that can be used in business writing.

As you get acquainted with each of these approaches, you will see that they rely heavily on being receiver-centric. You will need to know a lot about your receiver to be able to determine your best course of action.

Adjust to Your Receiver’s Anchor Point

Persuasion can be hard. Especially when you try to persuade people to believe or do something very different than they are used to, you may find that they are resistant to change. (Chances are, even you might be resistant to other communicators’ attempts to persuade you.) It’s simply part of human nature.

Because of this resistance, sometimes persuasion is most effective when it happens in steps. That is, you might have to engage in several persuasive attempts—with each step advancing your persuasive goal a little further—to get your receiver to adopt your point of view or take action on your proposal.

The question, then, is how do you know when you can go for the full request or if you should take it in steps? Social Judgement Theory provides a useful way to think about setting your overarching persuasive position.[1]

The basic premise of Social Judgement Theory is that every person holds a collection of beliefs and they fall into three zones or “latitudes.” The latitude of acceptance includes all positions that people find true and reasonable, the latitude of rejection includes all positions that people find objectionable, and the latitude of noncommitment includes the remaining positions that people are neutral towards. Additionally, every person holds an anchor point, which represents their preferred position along that continuum.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise then to learn that if you make a request in someone’s latitude of rejection, you likely will be rejected. But if you only forwarded positions in that receiver’s latitude of acceptance, you wouldn’t really be persuading either. So for the maximum persuasive impact, your goal is to set a persuasion target as close to your target goal as possible but still within within your receiver’s latitude of noncommitment.

Because anchor points are not set in stone, as you persuade your receiver, his or her anchor points likely will shift. So even though you may not reach your ultimate goal for persuasion in the first attempt, by influencing your receivers’ beliefs, you will expand their latitude of acceptance, shift their anchor point, and possibly even shrink their latitude of rejection. See Figure 3.

Before Persuasive Attempt

After Successful Persuasive Attempt

Figure 3. Strategic persuasion involves understanding your receiver’s latitudes of acceptance, rejection, and noncommitment. By targeting your instrumental goal within the latitude of noncommitment (versus the latitude of rejection), you will increase your likelihood of being successful in your persuasion attempts. Successful persuasion attempts ultimately can alter the boundaries of your receiver’s latitudes and shift anchor points making additional progress possible.


Appeal Differently to Expert and Novice Receivers

Another strategic approach to persuasion involves developing your argument differently depending on whether your receiver is an expert or a novice decision-maker.[2] Communication expert Richard Young explains how the knowledge and experience level of your receiver significantly impact how they interpret and act on your messages.[3]

Specifically, expert decision-makers are those who are experienced at making a particular kind of decision. Over time, they will have developed schemas for decision making. A schema is a mental checklist that includes all the main criteria they will use to make their decision. When faced with persuasive messages, expert decision makers actively evaluate messages for information that addresses each criterion. Then using matrix-thinking, they essentially build a mental image of a table that compares proposals against their schema and possibly other proposals.

Because expert receivers are highly rational and efficient in their approach, the most persuasive messages are those that enable them to make their decision as quickly as possible. In fact, expert receivers can view messages that address irrelevant points as less effective and less persuasive. So to That means that you should make sure that you have a complete understanding of your receiver’s decision-making criteria, concisely address all criteria, and exclude any claims about criteria outside the schema.

In contrast, novice decision-makers are less experienced at making particular kinds of decisions and likely have not developed a schema. Thus, their approach to decision making may be more emotional, intuitive, or passive. This does not mean that novice decision-makers are unable to make good decisions, but it does mean that it may take longer for them to evaluate available criteria and they may be influenced by a wider range of considerations.

To maximize the effectiveness of a persuasive appeal to a novice decision-maker, you should explicitly identify the criteria that should be used to evaluate your proposal and then to demonstrate how your proposal meets those criteria. Also, knowing that novice decision-makers are more likely to be influenced by multiple considerations, it also will be helpful to address and dispel counter arguments. If you are thinking that all these steps will make persuasive arguments for novice decision-makers longer, you are right.

Balance Logical and Emotional Appeals

A third approach to persuading receivers is to strike the right balance of logical and emotional appeals. the right mix of appeals is dependent upon where your receiver stands on a particular matter. As described earlier, a receiver can be favorable, unfavorable, or neutral. That relative positioning toward your persuasive position will influence which kinds of evidence and claims will be most effective. Communication experts Jo Sprague, Douglas Stuart and David Bodary have provided a good general framework for determining the right mix. See Figure 3.[4]

For favorable receivers, they likely already agree with you—at least in principle. So your task in persuading them is not necessarily to get them believe something, but instead to motivate them act on something that you’ve said. Therefore, instead of spending a lot of time on logical appeals, you can introduce emotional appeals to intensify your receivers’ favorability, to rally their support, or to get them more involved.

But emotional don’t always work that way. With unfavorable receivers, emotional appeals likely will decrease your likelihood of success. Because unfavorable receivers are starting from a position opposed to your goal, they need sound logic and strong evidence to be moved. The use of emotional appeals will likely be viewed as a weak attempt to persuade, a lack of credible evidence, or possibly even an attempt to manipulate. So for unfavorable audiences, it is better to stick to facts and logic.

For neutral receivers, chances are that you will need a mix of logical and emotional appeals. But the right mix will depend upon whether your receivers are neutral because they are undecided, uniformed, or simply uninterested. Undecided and uninformed receivers should be presented with a full case of evidence that presents all sides of the argument and is heavily geared to logic. Uninterested receivers will also need a lot of logical appeals, but introducing some emotional appeals may help motivate them to care about your appeal.

Logic Logic and Emotion Emotion


Communication Tip: Communicate with Confidence

When it comes to persuasion, how you say something can be just as important as what you say. In particular, communicating confidently and and passionately sends subtle cues to your receiver that help you be more persuasive. Below are some tips for how to communicate with confidence.

Strike Tentative Clauses
Tentative clauses includes anything that (unintentionally) signals uncertainty or a lack of confidence. It can include expressions like, “I believe,” “I think,” and “In my opinion.” When people read tentative clauses, they get a subtle signal that the communicator isn’t completely sure. That in turn, can lead them to be less confident in the claim as well. So check your messages for tentative clauses and then eliminate them.

Example: I think this will be best option for the company.

Improved: This will be the best option for the company.

Trim Empty Hedges
Hedges are words that are used to exercise caution or make a statement less forceful. Sometimes using hedges is necessary and ethical in persuasion, such as when you are being honest and accurate about a relationship. For example, there is a difference between saying something will happen versus something might happen. But sometimes hedges slip into writing unintentionally.

So be on the look out for words that minimize your certainty: maybe, perhaps, possibly, sometimes, fairly, usually, might, could, actually and other similar words. Each time you see one of those words, read your sentence carefully. Is the hedge necessary to convey the truth? Then keep it in. Is it there as a filler word? Then strike it or replace it with a stronger word.

Example: Implementing these three cost-savings measures maybe could save us $1 million annually.

Improved:  Implementing these three cost-savings measures is projected to save us $1 million annually.

Express Your Passion
It usually is easier for receivers to evaluate a communicator’s passion in when they are speaking rather than writing, as they can rely on tone of voice, body language, and other nonverbal cues. But you can demonstrate passion in your writing, too. One way to do it is to explicitly state that you are passionate. Expressions like, “I care deeply about this issue,” or “This matter is important to me” directly communicate your passion. You can even share a concise story about why you are passionate. Of course, you should reserve expressions of passion for when you genuinely are passionate.

Example: This new employee wellness program will enable us to build a healthier and happier workforce.

Improved: We are passionate about this new employee wellness program, which will enable us to build a healthier and happier workforce.

Avoid Exclamation Points
Be careful using exclamation points in business contexts. While exclamation points might help you convey your enthusiasm in personal communication, using them in business can backfire and raise questions about your seriousness. When it comes to persuasion, it usually is best to leave out all exclamation points.

Example: Our software platform is easy to use!!!

Improved: Our software platform is easy to use.


  1. Social Judgement Theory was developed decades ago by social psychologists Muzafer Sherif and Carl Hovland. You can read more in one of the original publications: Muzafer Sherif and Carl Hovland, Social Judgment: Assimilation and Contrast Effects in Communication and Attitude Change. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1961) or read more
  2. To be clear, the differentiation between expert and novice receivers is not about intelligent versus not intelligent, or about general experience versus general inexperience. Instead, the differentiation refers to the experience and expertise that people have making particular kinds of decisions. For example, someone who works in human resources is likely an expert at making hiring decisions, but a novice at making decisions about purchasing a new software system. In contrast, someone who works in procurement is likely an expert at making large purchases, but may be more novice at making hiring decisions.
  3. If you are interested in persuading decision-makers in a variety of business contexts, you can read: Richard Young, Persuasive Communication: How Audiences Decide, 2nd ed. (New York, NY: Routledge, 2016)
  4. The framework for balancing logical and emotional appeals was originally developed for persuasive public speaking. But the basic principles hold whether speaking or writing. For more information, see Jo Sprague, Douglas Stuart, and David Bodary, The Speaker's Handbook, 12th ed. (Boston, MA: Cengage, 2019)


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Business Communication: Five Core Competencies Copyright © 2023 by Kristen Lucas, Jacob D. Rawlins, and Jenna Haugen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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