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The Elements of Strategic Persuasion

Effective communication is paramount to good outcomes. Being strategic helps.

Communication is one of the most basic functions of living. In managerial situations, it can help make good decisions, think out well-conceived plans, establish a sound organisation structure, and create good relationships with colleagues. Communication is essential for achieving managerial and organisational effectiveness. Good communication helps employees become more involved in their work and helps them to develop a better understanding of their role. Clear, precise and timely communication of information also prevents the occurrence of organisational problems.

Without communication, employees will not be aware of what their co-workers are doing, will not have any idea about what their goals are, and will not be able to assess their performance. Managers will not be able to give instructions to their subordinates and management will not receive the information it requires to develop plans and make decisions. Thus communication acts as the nervous system for any organisation.


The ancient idea of Metis and the Art of Practical Intelligence was born in Greece. Metis was seen as most suitable to situations that were fluid, dynamic, fast moving, uncertain and contrary (Freedman: 2013). Cultivating and generating an ability to adapt to constantly changing events with sufficient flexibility is seen as paramount to this philosophy, just as we have had to do throughout Covid-19 lockdowns. Practical intelligence allows for the display of forethought, speed and a capacity for trickery and deception. All of these qualities are required in the use of strategic intelligence.

Persuasion, the ability to use rhetoric and the proper use of language, was also tantamount to an effective strategy. The Greek Pericles reminded Protagoras that those with “knowledge but without the power to express it, might as well have had no ideas at all” and therefore, at the heart of all effective strategies, is the ability to communicate strategically and persuasively to achieve one's ends. Leveraging the behavioural effects of language by using what we call injunctive and performative language (Spencer-Brown: 1967), we can create amazing effects to promote change, define solutions or inhibit unwanted behaviours.

Effective strategies usually involve:

  • Empathy for the opponents’ or allies’ situation—enough to have influence.

  • Some outstanding capability or strength—enough to impress or intimidate others.

  • The ability to build effective relationships and coalitions.

  • An understanding of how to communicate effectively at a personal and organisational level.


Persuasive communication and the use of verbal and non-verbal aspects of communication are paramount to any effective professional or personal endeavour. Understanding the belief and value system of others and adapting to their unique communication style and form are essential elements of a strategic approach to life. It is the deliberate and conscious use of persuasive communication as the main vehicle for change that separates the strategic approach from others and will constitute the success or failure of a strategy. At an interpersonal level, we must pay attention to both the verbal and non-verbal aspects of communication.

Important non-verbal aspects of consultation:

  • First impression, which should be high impact.
  • Good eye contact.
  • Body space, posture, and body language.

Important verbal aspects:

  • Evocation of specific emotions through dialogue.
  • The strategic dialogue—a suggestive and evocative form of communication.
  • Use of metaphor, story, etc.

Business impact

Research at the Human Dynamics – MIT Media Lab in the U.S. has shown that 90% of the impact business executives have during a presentation has little to do with what was being said. A Harvard psychologist, Nailini Ambady (1993), has shown that we can judge people’s personal traits in less than six seconds, even when relying on a video clip that has no sound (Yeung: 2011).

These and many other studies have repeatedly shown the effect body language has on how people judge and relate to us (Cialdini: 2006). Non-verbal aspects of our communication amplify or reduce the effects of the words we use therefore non-verbal communication should normally take precedence over verbal. Eye contact between people should also be seen as a communicational phenomenon that can help to establish a meaningful relationship.

Eye Contact

Burnett and Motowidlo (1998), found in their study on manager candidates at interview (by using a measure of four non-verbal behaviours), that good eye contact was one behaviour that predicted a positive outcome. Babies from the very earliest stage of development can be seen to seek out positive eye contact with their carer and it has a significant effect on their development. Through research in neuroscience, we can see that eye contact activates parts of the brain that have to do with attraction (Duhigg: 2011) and this is significant when we are seeking to be influential. Our desire and need for effective eye contact are hardwired into us. One Canadian study (Hemsley and Doob: 1978) revealed that in criminal cases, jurors were more likely to convict an accused person of a crime if they failed to hold the prosecutor’s gaze for long enough.

Avoiding Folklore

Contrary to popular belief, being too assertive or overly confident in our eye contact can actually avoid creating a warm or effective relationship. Through the continual and subtle vacillation and alternation of eye contact between the eye and other parts of a person’s face and body, we can allow the client to experience a more comfortable interaction and may create a more effective and warm exchange. This will be even more powerfully felt in the initial meeting and early stages of the relationship. The contrary is also true, in that as the relationship evolves, we must not make the client feel that we cannot fix our eyes on them or that they cannot capture our gaze either as this will have the opposite effect, as we have already mentioned. Humans are hardwired for eye contact and although it is important, it must be managed based on the objective and the phase of the relationship in consultation.


Gibson, P. (2022) The Persuasion Principle. Communication Strategies to Persuade and Influence. Strategic Science Books.

About the Author

Padraic Gibson, D.Psych, is a Consultant Clinical Psychotherapist and is the Clinical Director of The OCD Clinic®, and director of Training and Organization Consultation at The Coaching Clinic®, Dublin. He is senior research associate at Dublin City University.

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