Persuasion Is NOT A Dirty Word

Bernie Madoff, king of ponzi scheme

Yeppers.  You read that right. Persuasion is NOT a dirty word.  You might be thinking about scams and slimy business people, like Bernie Madoff here, and how they use persuasion.  Evidently, they are using persuasion for the wrong purposes. Persuasion is everywhere, whether you like it or not.  I like to emphasize that it is amoral, meaning it can be used for good and bad, something I will talk about later.  Hopefully, by the end of this read, you can understand why.


Before I actually talk about why persuasion is not a dirty word, I want to take a few sentences to define the term. The working definition created by Robert Gass and John Seiter, authors of Persuasion: Social Influence and Compliance Gaining, is:

Persuasion involves one or more persons who are engaged in the activity of creating, reinforcing, modifying, or extinguishing beliefs, attitudes, intentions, motivations, and/or behaviors within the constraints of a given communication context.

In simple terms, it is the act of changing one’s beliefs, attitudes, and behavior (all three are different contrary to popular belief 1) about something, whether it is an idea, event, object, or people.

There are primarily two types of persuasion: borderline and pure. Pure is when it is obvious that someone is trying to persuade you, like charities asking for donations.  Borderline is when it is less obvious and falls into this gray space of whether it is or is not persuasion.

Why It Is Not A Dirty Word

As stated earlier, persuasion is amoral.  It can be used for good and bad.  An example is a knife.  It is great for cutting your food, but when used to hurt people, it is not so great.

If you think about it, a lot of what has been accomplished in this world could not have been done without persuasion.  Professionals who use persuasion on the daily basis include: lawyers, politicians, business people, advertising, sales, public relations, marketing, social work, and so much more.  Even people in science need to befriend persuasion.  Why?  To convince other people that their research and results have scientific and social merit.  To convince other scientists, funding agencies, and the mass public.  The data speaks for itself to an extent.  People need to have persuasion skills to defend and argue for their research.

Persuasion can occur in the arts, whether its paintings, sculptures, or films.  Picasso’s Guernica depicts the horror and deaths happening in his native country, Spain, during the Spanish Civil War.  This helped bring a global attention the devastation and destruction of war in general.


Documentary films inform the public about a serious issue that should be solved, like An Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore about global warming (highly recommend if you have not watched it yet).

At times, persuasion can happen in not so obvious contexts.  Take bumper stickers for example.  If the sticker said go vegetarian and you are exposed to that sticker multiple times, it might persuade you to try vegetarian food and become a vegetarian. Roadway signs that check for speeding by radar is another example. If you are going 40mph down a street in a residential area and you see the speed radars down the road and a sign that says 25mph, you might drop the speed down to 25mph and see if radar is also showing 25mph.


I repeat:  persuasion is amoral and can be used for good or bad. What determines whether the persuasion is good or bad depends on the persuader’s motive and why they are using it.  For instance, the use of fear.  It is not justified to use fear to get people to commit to a scam.  It is justified to use fear to get people to take health exams, change their diet, or exercise more to improve their health.  Having some awareness of persuasion tactics is good because people are then better able to defend themselves against those who use the tactics on them.

Understand why persuasion is not a dirty word now?  If not, feel free to comment down below and let me know.  


  1. Beliefs: perception on what is true or false.  Attitudes: evaluative judgements/opinions toward a situation or person.  Behavior: influence on person’s action


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