How To Be Persuasive

If your target isn't ready yet, it's too soon to ask.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

How to be persuasive?

In this art­icle, you will get a few short and action­able insights into the mech­an­ics of per­suad­ing (not manip­u­lat­ing) someone.

The “secret” is to lay the ground­work before your per­sua­sion attempt.

Here we go:

I. The Golden Rule of Persuasion

The rule of thumb for being per­suas­ive is basic:

The golden rule of per­sua­sion: Never sug­gest any­thing to any­one who isn’t yet ready to comply. 

While this might sound straight­for­ward, there’s a caveat.

Anyone can ask for any­thing, but per­suas­ive people pro­cess their tar­gets thor­oughly before attempt­ing to close them.

So, how does this work?

II. Pre-Suasion — Changing State of Minds

Contrary to pop­u­lar belief, per­sua­sion is nev­er about coax­ing any­one into com­pli­ance because that’s manip­u­la­tion, not persuasion.

In 1984, Robert Cialdini wrote Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, which has since become the closest thing to a holy book for thou­sands of mar­keters and com­mu­nic­at­ors — espe­cially those who work with online engage­ment and social media.

In his book Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade, Cialdini shares that suc­cess­ful per­suaders change people’s “state of mind” before try­ing to change their “minds.”

Pre-Suasion - Robert Cialdini
Pre-Suasion by Robert Cialdini.

But what does it mean to try and change someone’s state of mind before chan­ging their mind?

III. Priming and Framing

Two cent­ral con­cepts in per­sua­sion are prim­ing and framing.

Priming = Getting an audi­ence into the right state of mind. 

Framing = Adapting your mes­sage to the spe­cif­ic context.

In ordin­ary life, the “easi­est” way to pre­pare someone to be per­suaded is to get into a cas­u­al con­ver­sa­tion; you need to fig­ure out how the per­son you wish to per­suade would reply — without ask­ing the actu­al ques­tion and put­ting them on the spot. 

Priming Wheel - Persuasion - 12 Steps
A twelve-step pro­gram for prim­ing (pre-empt­ive persuasion).

Priming and fram­ing are about doing your home­work by get­ting to the bot­tom of how they feel and fig­ur­ing out how the reas­on­ing mech­an­isms of your audi­ence work.

IV. Preparation, Cold-Reading, and Investment

Preparation. Persuasion is more about prep work than most people realise.

Never make the ask until you’re sure about get­ting a pos­it­ive response. If someone’s not ready to com­ply yet, listen even more closely for what it will take for you to suc­ceed and start over. If the per­son you’re try­ing to per­suade isn’t pre­pared yet, neither are you.

Cold-Reading. Being able to tell when someone is ready to com­ply is a skill.

The true super­power is to devel­op a sixth sense for when someone is ready to “play ball.” The most com­mon mis­take in per­sua­sion is when people ask early on — and then find them­selves hav­ing to change someone’s “offi­cial stand­point” (which is much harder). An intu­it­ive under­stand­ing of psy­cho­lo­gic­al biases will help you.

Investment. Compliance comes at a cost; are you will­ing to pay it?

Every time you try to per­suade any­one of any­thing, there’s a “cost” to you. It could be pride, time, money, energy — or some­thing else. Part of being per­suas­ive is fig­ur­ing out the “cost of com­pli­ance” without mak­ing the actu­al ask and determ­in­ing if it will be worth the effort. Don’t fool your­self; if you’re unwill­ing to pay the price, walk away.

V. The Ethics of Persuasion

Persuasion is about get­ting someone to com­ply because they want to. A manip­u­lat­or always has his best self-interest in mind, where­as a per­suader must see the world through the eyes of others. 

Be a per­suader. Not a manipulator.

To Spin Or Not To Spin - Inception - Spinning Top
To spin or not to spin. That’s the question.

Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing it with oth­er PR- and com­mu­nic­a­tion pro­fes­sion­als. For ques­tions or PR sup­port, con­tact me via jerry@​spinfactory.​com.

PR Resource: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos

Ethos Pathos Logos - Persuasion - Doctor Spin - The PR Blog
Classical per­sua­sion.

Ethos, Pathos, and Logos: Three Classical Modes of Persuasion

Aristotle’s three modes of rhet­or­ic­al per­sua­sion are eth­os, pathos, and logos, which are based on mor­al com­pet­ence, emo­tion­al appeal, and reas­on.”
Source: Sino-US English Teaching 1Lin, W. (2019). Three Modes of Rhetorical Persuasion. Sino-US English Teaching. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​7​2​6​5​/​1​539 – 80722019.03.003

Ethos, pathos, and logos are three modes of per­sua­sion recog­nised since ancient Greece, and they play an essen­tial role in pub­lic relations. 

  • Ethos. This mode of per­sua­sion refers to the cred­ib­il­ity or eth­ic­al appeal of the com­mu­nic­at­or, which can be estab­lished through demon­strat­ing expert­ise, integ­rity, and goodwill.
  • Pathos. This mode of per­sua­sion per­tains to emo­tion­al appeal, which involves stir­ring the audience’s feel­ings to sway their opin­ions or actions.
  • Logos. This mode of per­sua­sion is the logic­al appeal, which relies on present­ing sound argu­ments and evid­ence to con­vince the audience.

In PR, these three modes of per­sua­sion are often com­bined to cre­ate com­pel­ling mes­sages that res­on­ate with the audi­ence on mul­tiple levels. 2Modes of per­sua­sion. (2023, September 27). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​M​o​d​e​s​_​o​f​_​p​e​r​s​u​a​s​ion

Learn more: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos in Public Relations

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PR Resource: Six Principles of Influence

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini.

Robert Cialdini: Six Principles of Influence

Robert Cialdini pub­lished Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion in 1984 and his prin­ciples of influ­ence are widely cited. They provide a frame­work for under­stand­ing how people are per­suaded, and pub­lic rela­tions, advert­ising, and sales pro­fes­sion­als often use them. 3Cialdini, R. B. (2009). Influence: The psy­cho­logy of per­sua­sion (Rev. ed.). HarperCollins.

Here are Cialdini’s six principles:

  • Reciprocity. This prin­ciple is based on the idea that people feel oblig­ated to give back when they receive it. If a com­pany gives some­thing to its cus­tom­ers (like a free sample or a dis­count), those cus­tom­ers may feel com­pelled to pur­chase in return.
  • Scarcity. People tend to want things that are lim­ited or hard to get. Marketers often use this prin­ciple by cre­at­ing a sense of urgency around a product or ser­vice, such as a lim­ited-time offer or a lim­ited-edi­tion product.
  • Authority. People tend to fol­low the lead of cred­ible experts. In PR and mar­ket­ing, this can be achieved by hav­ing an expert endorse a product or demon­strate expert­ise and cred­ib­il­ity in the field.
  • Consistency (or Commitment). People like to be con­sist­ent with the things they have pre­vi­ously said or done. This prin­ciple is often used in mar­ket­ing by get­ting a small ini­tial com­mit­ment from a cus­tom­er, which increases the like­li­hood that they will make a more sig­ni­fic­ant com­mit­ment later.
  • Liking. People are more likely to be per­suaded by people they like. Physical attract­ive­ness, sim­il­ar­ity, com­pli­ments, and coöper­a­tion can influ­ence this.
  • Consensus (or Social Proof). People often look to the actions and beha­viours of oth­ers to determ­ine their own. If a product or ser­vice is pop­u­lar or endorsed by oth­ers, people are like­li­er to deem it good or trustworthy.

These prin­ciples are power­ful tools for per­sua­sion and can be used indi­vidu­ally or in com­bin­a­tion to influ­ence per­cep­tions and behaviours.

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1 Lin, W. (2019). Three Modes of Rhetorical Persuasion. Sino-US English Teaching. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​7​2​6​5​/​1​539 – 80722019.03.003
2 Modes of per­sua­sion. (2023, September 27). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​M​o​d​e​s​_​o​f​_​p​e​r​s​u​a​s​ion
3 Cialdini, R. B. (2009). Influence: The psy­cho­logy of per­sua­sion (Rev. ed.). HarperCollins.
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Cover Photo

The cover photo has nothing to do with public relations, of course. I share for no other reason that I happen to enjoy photography. Call it an “ornamental distraction”—and a subtle reminder to appreciate nature.

The cover photo has


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