On Communication and Persuasion, Part Three

Moreover, due to the fact that globalization and technology have “blurred the lines of authority” that once existed in a modern age, it follows that “persuasion skills exert far greater influence over others’ behavior than formal power structures do.” In turn, persuasion takes hold of an audience when the communicator or conveyor of information is “appealing to a limited set of deeply rooted human drives and needs” and in “predictable ways.” How one appeals to the basic drives and needs of different individuals is also more of an art than a science.

As mentioned before, the basic drives and needs being pursued in this day and age by both groups and individuals in both an entrepreneurial and political sense as well as a personal and social sense are dignity and respect. What arises then is the question of how an individual or group can effectively communicate and persuade others to render the dignity and respect which the individual or group is seeking. And as Irving Janis, Carl Hovland, and Harold Kelley argued in the 20th century, communication and persuasion revolve around three elements, namely, the nature of the communicator, what it is that is actually being communicated, and the audience to which one is communicating.

In a sense, the nature of the communicator is evinced by the credibility and the expertise which is demonstrated by the communicator. Also, the grasp with which the communication and speech takes hold over an audience has more to do with the emotion and feeling that the communication and speech evokes in an audience rather than the complexity of the philosophical and theoretical underpinnings of the communication and speech. And whether the emotional or sentimental grasp that the communication and speech have over the audience is either positive or negative depends on whether the communication and speech plays into “group conformity.” In other words, the less that the communication and speech deviates from the basic beliefs, ideas, and social norms of the audience, the more it will persuade the audience into adopting the basic beliefs and ideas that are being conveyed in the communication and speech.

Thus, when two opposing parties who are engaged in a conflict seek to persuade an independent or third party of their respective proposals, what makes a proposal acceptable or objectionable to the independent or third party is the issue of how close or how far removed the proposals are to the basic beliefs, ideas, preferences, and social norms of the independent or third party.

Also, and as the 20th century sociologist Erving Goffman noted, the information being conveyed by a communicator has to conform to the image or impression that is given off by the communicator or is commonly held by the audience in regards to the communicator. Because imagery and visualization are so important in communication and persuasion, there is an obvious imbalance in Western media between the presentation of context and content on one hand, and the presentation of images and sound bites on the other hand.

Goffman also wrote about the complexities and various dimensions of basic social interaction, and he argued that there was “focused interaction” on one hand, as well as “unfocused interaction” on the other hand. The former is aimed at the creation of a group or a coalition, whereas the latter is laxed and informal and with no specific aim. Also, the communication and interaction occurring within a group occurs within a web of commonly-held beliefs and ideas, as well as historical relationships and commonly understood social norms. As a result, communication within a group is largely different than communication during an “encounter,” according to Goffman. And when gatherings are held, they are held with the aim of forming a group and with the aim of group-formation.

In turn, every group has a social hierarchy and a basic goal or purpose, namely, to promote the “unitary interest” of those within the group. In certain cases which are extraordinary and rare, groups and relationships are formed based on experience and love. But in most cases, groups are formed based on interests rather than experiences and values, and what follows is that individuals within a group are either a “player, pawn, token” or “informant” which serve the group. And when groups interact with one another, their interactions are known as “strategic interactions” consisting of either a “course of action” or “moves” which advance the “unitary interest” or the basic interests wielded by each group. As Goffman wrote:

“Courses of action or moves will then be made in the light of one’s thoughts about the others’ thoughts about oneself. An exchange of moves made on the basis of this kind of orientation to self and others can be called strategic interaction.”

The occasional coming together of different groups with different beliefs and different ideas in order to promote a single interest is known as a “coalition.” Finally, given that strategic communication and persuasion are underpinned and undergirded by the basic aim or goal of promoting the “unitary interest” of a group, it perhaps follows that the most basic interest of any group is to brainwash people and to convince as many people as possible to convert to the basic beliefs and ideas held within the group. In fact, torture is seen as a form of “coercive persuasion” in order to coerce the person being tortured into adopting the beliefs and ideas of the torturer. On those rare occasions when an individual who belongs to no particular group ends up pursuing a “course of action” whereby he or she provides information to so many different groups and sides which can then perhaps be used against the individual, it means that the benefits and utility of providing information to disparate groups outweigh the costs and risks of providing information.

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