Skip to main content

The Art of Persuasion

By August 24, 2011No Comments

Here’s a fun question to ask yourself:

If you could sit down and have a conversation with the person you were 10 years ago, what would you say to your younger self? On what topics would you agree, and on what would you disagree?

As I think about the ways in which I’ve grown in the last 10 years, I am grateful for the changes. God has been faithful to prune me of some rather unattractive habits and personality flaws, and hopefully He’ll continue to do so. My stubborn nature has ensured that the growth is slow and even stagnant at times, but God has persevered. That said, if I could sit down with my younger self today, I would probably tell myself to quit acting like a know-it-all and try listening for a change.

For instance, there were seasons in my life when I was unwilling to thoughtfully consider any opinion that was different than my own. In fact, I dug in my heels even deeper if someone tried to convince me otherwise.  I didn’t know enough to know how little I knew, if that makes sense. So I persisted in my naiveté.

In the last 10 years my growth as a thinker has indeed been a circuitous path, and a classmate of mine recently helped me to understand why. He told me about an idea called “The Persuasion Scale” and it works like this:

First, picture a scale from 1 to 10 in which the numbers represent agreement with an idea or an opinion. 1 signifies total disagreement, and 10 signifies total agreement.

1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10

Now imagine an issue with which you totally agree, such as helping the poor, or marital fidelity. Then imagine a person who disagrees with you. Let’s say they fall somewhere around a 4 or 5 on the scale.

Research shows that if you want to persuade a person to move from level 4 or 5 to level 10, do not aim for 10 initially. If you push them too hard too fast, they will actually move backward to level 1 or 2. They will disagree even more strongly than before. However, if you try to move them from a 5 to a 6 or 7, they are far more likely to respond positively. Persuasion is much more effective in little steps.

Looking back on my own process of spiritual and intellectual maturity, the Persuasion Scale makes a lot of sense. If an idea is too radical, my fear tempts me to run away from it even harder. But if a new idea is relatively close to something I already believe and can wrap my head around, I am much more likely to consider it.

The Persuasion Scale is also helpful for Christians as we think about evangelism. Although God certainly has the power to move someone from a 1 to a 10 in a moment, everyone’s journey is different. Your role in the life of an unbelieving friend may be rather small, but it is nevertheless significant. Perhaps your only job is to show them that God is truly loving. Perhaps you are the safe place for a friend to explore spiritual questions.

Yet the Persuasion Scale also reminds us that if we share Christ in a way that ignores individual processes and tries to force growth, we risk doing greater damage than good. We can push people farther away from God than they were before.

Thankfully, God is Lord over each person’s path. The Persuasion Scale is not a sure-fire formula for salvation but a reflection of the human nature. It helps us to understand ourselves better, and in turn be better stewards of the message we have to share.

Leave a Reply