It is a universal complaint: "If I'm not being a wimp, I feel like a bully! How can I get my way in a reasonable manner?"
This book sets out to answer that question.
Is it a legitimate question? Of course it is. Social cooperation is a give and take. If you never get your way, you are not cooperating, but obeying. Some will insist that the question and the answer cannot be moral, because they inevitably involve force. This book recognizes that force does not work, and looks at methods that do.
Life in society does not proceed by force, but by cooperation. We blend my way with your way, and do things our way. We both influence the process. Then we both complain that we had too little influence. This book discusses the methods for having more.
There are three different ways to have influence: force, example, persuasion. They are not ordinarily kept well sorted out, so one can gain an instant advantage by holding the differences in mind.
Force means compulsion and its corollary fraud. It has very little efficacy in society. Society means cooperation for universal benefit. To use force is to give up on that and demand obedience. Then you are faced with the problem of extending that obedience to the brain. Force can scramble brains, but not control them. Because of this inescapable limitation, force is usually spoken of as a method of controlling children and lawbreakers only. When tried as a method of influence, it normally masquerades as persuasion.
Example is manifestly the most powerful and prevalent means of influence. If you do things my way, it is usually because you watched me succeed. If you refuse to listen to me, it is usually because I refuse to listen to you. The first social influence on children is the example of parents. Leadership relies heavily on influence by example. Advertising uses celebrity endorsements to influence by example. The distinguishing characteristic of example is that it is not just a means, but an end. You do a thing in order to have it done. Your example may influence me to do it too—but not if that was the only reason you did it. That's why the celebrity endorsement is suspect. We are asked to believe that the celebrity really uses the product—or at least approves of it -- or at least knows what it is.
Persuasion is intentional influence by means of reason. It is a concept in disarray. "I persuaded him with a punch to the jaw," has ceased to be a joke. "I persuaded them by my example," is a commonplace. Talking this way, we could say that there are three main methods of persuasion: force, example, and reason. That would leave us with one more word for influence, and no word at all for influence by means of reason. So this book will be scrupulous in using persuasion to mean influence by means of reason.
What wrecked the concept of persuasion was discarding free will.
Once we said, "I hope you will change your mind about that." Then we said, "I hope I can change your mind about that." Now we say, "You have to get your mind changed about that." Once we knew that a mind changes only as it chooses. Now we assume a mind gets changed from outside, like an ingrown toenail.
The writer Vance Packard was influential in erasing free will from persuasion by describing various advertising techniques as "Hidden Persuaders." Then came "brain-washing," and "de-programming." Now we have motivational research. People are said to be controlled by "hot buttons," or magic phrases. Combining all these imaginary processes together gives the idea of mind control. It is a phrase without a definition. It demonstrates its nature by fading away the instant it is closely examined. But it has not been closely examined. It has been incorporated into the idea of persuasion, and it has caused havoc. So this book will examine it closely.
One appeal of "mind control" is that it implies the substitution of your will for my will. Talk about influence! The idea is considered unscrupulous but powerfully efficacious. Power lovers find it addictive. Everybody ignores the nagging question: is it possible? This book asks a further question: would it get you your way?
Demolishing the chimera of "mind control" will reveal the forgotten potential of real persuasion. Does that mean argumentation? This book argues that it does not. Another reason the concept of persuasion is in such disarray is that it is not distinguished from explanation, from disputation, from debate. If persuasion is everything, then it is nothing. To appreciate how effective persuasion is, one must distinguish it from "mind control," from "will power"—and also from "unanswerable" argument and "irresistible" logic.
Each individual mind is fully responsible for its own contents. If you change your mind, it is improper and presumptuous of me to claim any fraction of the responsibility. If I claim that I "got you" to change your mind by being persuasive, then I am denying your free will. If I claim that I motivated you, using techniques from the latest seminar, I am placing the source of your actions outside of you. Does that mean that the source of my actions is outside of me?
Entrepreneurs pour precious start-up money into classes telling them how to finagle, wangle, manipulate, and maneuver others into backing their schemes. They call it all persuasion. It is advertised as sure-fire, fool-proof, and infallible. Does the entrepreneur attend the workshop because he wants to, or because he was maneuvered into it by sure-fire, fool-proof, infallible methods? In other words, was he influenced—or controlled?
The most fundamental cause of that nagging feeling that you don't ever get your way is that same confusion. It is confusing influence with control. So let's start by examining that distinction.