The key to persuading an audience is your ability to overcome resistance, because persuasion is rarely necessary unless the audience doesn’t like your idea, doesn’t believe your message, or doesn’t like you.
If resistance is the big obstacle that stands in the way of your achieving your goal, a key way is to recast your message so that you change the audience’s frame of reference. Here are two examples:
A) The University of Kansas Psychology Department requires psych majors to participate in research experiments. For years, students were told to participate in four hours of research per week, and if they missed any appointment, they were penalized and had to complete five hours. They resented that.
So the department reframed the proposal to make it look more attractive by telling students they had to complete five hours of research, but if they completed four without any missed appointments, they were given the fifth hour as a bonus. The total time required was the same, but by manipulating the message elements, the department made the requirement look more acceptable.
B) Psychologist Irwin Levin asked audiences to consider buying ground beef that he alternately described as “75 percent lean” or “25 percent fat.” It was the same meat but labeled differently. Levin had reframed his message by changing the attributes of the meat. Consequently, more people had a positive opinion of the meat when it was presented in terms of percent-lean rather than percent-fat, because “75 percent lean” looks better.
Ken O’Quinn teaches writing and communications workshops for all levels in corporations. A former Associated Press writer, he is the author of Perfect Phrases for Business and is a contributing author of Focus on Them, about leadership.