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The Art of Persuasion

Last revised/verified: 2007-06-07


The art of persuasion can be used to get humans into bed or to get them to buy material goods. What I am interested in is using the art of persuasion to sell ideas. You might use it to sell an idea like a new computer architecture, the end of hunger, a sustainable ecology or that gay and straight humans should have strict equality. You might use it to persuade humans to give up some bad habit like smoking tobacco, abusing alcohol, an obsolete violent religion or cruelty to animals and children.

These hints may be useful to altruistic humans or future artificial intelligences. Knowledge of these techniques may also be useful in defending yourself from persuasion by people who are considering only their personal benefit. Here are the techniques I have learned. I have not yet thought out which ones are ethical.

The Techniques

  1. Teach by example. If you want to stop a mob from panicking in a theatre during a fire, walk calmly. If you want humans to adopt some ethical moral code, or philosophical system, live it rigorously. They will pick it up from you unconsciously by modelling you.
  2. Lead with non-controversial statements.
  3. Humans reason mostly by analogy. The key is finding the right analogy and letting them reason it through for themselves. You don’t even need to assert the two models are related, just put them in the same vicinity.
  4. Praise the desired behaviour in anyone who exhibits it. The others will mindlessly model the behaviour to get praise.
  5. Don’t bother with the reasons why you want humans to do something. Get into their heads. Why would they want to do it? People are much more likely to trust you if you obviously like them and have their desires and well being in consideration.
  6. Reward humans with attention when they seem to be moving in the right direction.
  7. In debate, concede as many points as you possibly can. Your opponents will then perceive you as emminently reasonable and stop fighting you so hard.
  8. If you want to get humans angry at some injustice, don’t model anger. They will think you already have it covered and do nothing. Just calmly tell them the facts and let them create their own anger.
  9. Look on every response to what you say, no matter how vitriolic, as a gift from the universe to continue the debate. The worst thing that can happen is humans will ignore you totally. Treat every attack as a cry for more information.
  10. Express your own doubts about anything you say. The more middle-of-the-road you are in any controversy the more weight you have as a wise unbiased judge.
  11. There is no end to what can be accomplished if you don’t care who gets the credit.
  12. A thing hasn’t been said until its been said a thousand times.
    ~ Ring Lardner (1885-03-06 1933-09-25 age:48)
    And, you had better find a different way to say it every time.
  13. Keep your sense of humour at all times. It is the best weapon for disarming a harsh critic.
  14. Smoke ’em out. Get them to tell you what sort of argument would be convincing.
  15. Play Matlock. Play it a little dumber than you really are. It is useful if your opponents underestimate you. You are not as intimidating that way. The ethics of doing this are grey.
  16. Use colourful language. Play on all the senses.
  17. Using ad hominems or other logical fallacies is not logical.
  18. If I say it, they can doubt me.
    If they say it, it is true.
    ~ Tom Hopkins (1944 age:73)
    book cover recommend book⇒How to Master the Art of Sellingto book home
    by Tom Hopkins 978-0-446-38636-4 paperback
    birth 1944 age:73 978-0-938636-03-8 hardcover
    publisher Grand Central B005SZ151U kindle
    published 1988-10-20
    This is a book about selling products, somewhat more ethical than most. However, Hopkins in big on the art of dissembling. If you are aware of the various techniques the pros are taught to persuade you and lie to you, you can defend yourself against them better. Many of its dirty tricks can be adapted for a greater purpose
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  19. If an argument is not working, no matter how logical it is, try something else. Humans are rarely persuaded by logic.
  20. Never underestimate the rôle of the seconder. No idea succeeds without one.
  21. Be as ruthlessly honest as you can. Be willing to share any intimate detail about yourself. That way humans can get a sense of who you really are. They need that before they can trust you.
  22. For, if you would inform, a positive and dogmatical manner in advancing your sentiments may provoke contradiction and prevent a candid attention.
    ~ Benjamin Franklin (1706-01-17 1790-04-17 age:84)

    On the other paw, it can be a way to stimulate discussion.
  23. Use Pavlovian conditioning. Get them to associate what they like (e.g. sex) with what you want them to do. Get them to associate what they don’t like (e.g. pig vomit) with what you don’t want them to do. Iconic symbols are even better.
  24. Don’t rub it in when you score a debating point. The goal is to seek truth then persuade the humans of that truth, not to humiliate your opponents.
  25. Help your opponent save face when he agrees with you. Humans consider changing one’s mind dishonourable. Avoid shaming them by noticing publicly.
  26. A pause or complete silence is often more eloquent than any words. It also gives a chance for others to take up the charge.
  27. Counter contrarians by deprecating yourself or your ideas.
  28. Smoothly shift gears from third to second person.
  29. Use quantum salesmanship.
  30. The game isn’t over until everybody wins.
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