Much professional communication involves persuasion.  Persuasion can exist in memos, reports, cover letters, resumes, requests, informal discussion in a meeting, formal presentations to a group, and more.  Persuasion can be verbal and visual, written, spoken, and imaged.  It’s likely that, as part of a workforce or community group, at some point you have had to persuade.

Goals of Persuasion

The goal of communicating to persuade is to get your audience to understand the benefits of a particular change, process, or idea, as well as to get them to take action in some way, even if the action is simply to think more positively about that change. We often think of persuasion in terms of sales, and while persuasion is an element of sales, persuasion is not the same as a sales pitch.

In sales, the communicator/salesperson operates for his own benefit and the benefit of his company.  The ultimate goal is to get the audience to take a particular action, which is to make a purchase. In persuasion, the communicator considers the audience’s needs, in terms of both professional and/or human needs, and shows the benefits of the change, process, or idea to the audience.  The ultimate goal is to get the audience to take some action, but the action might differ, depending on each audience member’s perspective on and relationship to the proposed change.

Think of persuasion in terms of “measurable gain,” a system of assessing the extent to which audience members respond to a persuasive message. You may reinforce existing beliefs in the members of the audience that agree with you. You may also get hostile members of the audience to consider one of your arguments, and move from a hostile position to one that is more neutral or ambivalent. The goal in each case is to move the audience members toward your position. Some change may be small but measurable, and that is considered gain. The next time a hostile audience member considers the issue, they may be more open to it.  The diagram below illustrates the concept of measurable gain.

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Moving from Hostile → Negative = Develop a Tolerance of Multiple Perspectives

Your audience of town members at a town hall might be hostile to the concept of required recycling, giving trash companies the right to refuse picking up rubbish that obviously contains recyclable bottles and cans.  You might find common ground with your audience in terms of the locality’s desire to keep rubbish pick-up affordable, and avoid a tax increase or additional fees for that purpose.  While the audience still may not like the idea, if you start from common ground and provide information that proposes the benefit of restraining costs, you could move your audience to consider this alternate perspective.

Moving from Negative → Neutral = Increase Consideration

Perhaps you know that your task force audience at work is not open to emotional appeals that involve retaining a large group of part-time employees who have worked as needed on special projects over the past five years.  So you choose to base your persuasive communication on something they are more open to: economic and flexibility arguments for retaining them.  You might be able to compare and contrast costs of one new full-time employee over five years, as well as the ability of one person to handle the variety of tasks with the variety of skill sets that  the current part-time workers have. Your arguments and their support aim at increasing the audience’s consideration of your position. Your audience may not act immediately, but their increased consideration may help move them to further research and investigation of options at a later date.

Moving from Neutral → Positive = Convince Audience Members to Act

You may be having a difficult time as a supervisor encouraging your customer service staff to take part seriously in recommended (not required) diversity training, which has been scheduled to start on a certain date.  Most staff haven’t really considered this sort of training, and simply feel that they don’t have the time to spend on any training that they perceive as not directly related to their jobs, given their current work loads. Your goal is to get them to attend the training, so you will need to plan a range of points and examples to get audience members to consider your topic. You plan on a series of short, emailed reminders about the training, each of which contains at least two quotes or examples showing multiple perspectives on an incident or topic, to generate curiosity, clarify a problem, and indicate different possible solutions. The spur to action lies in these examples, which help convince some staff to attend, as they relate to actual workday situations.

Moving from Positive → Support = Stimulate Ideas

When you focus on stimulation as a persuasive goal, you want to reinforce existing beliefs, intensify them, and bring them to the forefront. For example, the volunteers your coordinate at a community residence for special needs adult clients may not all be aware how much different types of interaction benefit the clients. Although all volunteers understand that they are there to help with daily tasks, you are trying to persuade them to engage clients in simple games, discussions, and new learning suited to their abilities. In a meeting of volunteers, you present research that shows that multiple types of interaction does increase interpersonal and motor skills.  In this case, your persuasion starts from the foundation of common ground and commonly held beliefs, but then introduces information that your audience may not have been aware of as a strategy to stimulate their own creativity and further action.

Focus on Audience Needs

To achieve these gains, persuasion focuses on addressing the audience’s needs.  One way to consider audience need is to understand Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which he developed to explain motivation.  Maslow categorized and prioritized basic human needs and asserted that, when these needs were not being met, people would be motivated to act in order to fulfill them.  The following video provides a brief introduction to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs along with a brief discussion of how these needs might be applied to a professional workplace.

Considering Maslow’s hierarchy of needs may help you create a persuasive communication.  Remember that persuasion focuses on benefits to your audience.  If your audience perceives that proposed changes, processes, or ideas address certain types of needs, they may be motivated to act and shift to a more positive position on the scale of measurable gain.

AIDEA Approach to Persuasion

As a communicator, there’s a formula for persuasive messages that may foster that active shift; it’s acronym is AIDEA, which you can remember as your “aide to action.” The AIDEA approach to persuasion includes the following:


Audience engagement lays the groundwork for persuasion.  At the start of a persuasive communication, attract your audience’s attention with an interesting comment, fact, or insight related to the topic of your persuasive message.  Make sure to attract attention by using information that your audience can relate to, to establish a connection and some common ground from which to develop your persuasive case.


Once you have your audience’s attention, deepen their engagement by including fuller details, examples, and information related to your persuasive goal.  This is where the situational analysis you do in planning your persuasive message really helps—it should help you identify details that support your audience’s profile and the communication context.


Desire relates to your audience’s needs, both general human needs that Maslow identified, and specific personal and professional needs that you identify related to your audience, purpose, and organization. To create desire, include specific details and examples that explicitly and implicitly address your audience’s needs.


Desire and evidence complement one another; as you provide detailed, valid evidence to support your case, your audience should become more aware of how their needs can be met. Evidence verifies that it’s possible for those needs to be addressed as a result of a certain course of action—the thing that you’re persuading others to accept and enact. As appropriate, bring in evidence to support your details.  Note that some structures for persuasion omit this “E”; however, evidence can help move your audience toward your goal.  For example, if your goal is to persuade your audience to participate in a new, workplace-sponsored exercise program, evidence that focuses on self-fulfillment and research that shows that workplace exercise programs result in measurable cardiovascular improvements, an overall 3% weight loss among participants, a 5% boost in productivity, a 10% reduction in the company’s health care costs, and an overall 8% increase in company-sponsored benefits can help you achieve your purpose.  Make sure, though, that evidence is appropriate and balanced, and that researched evidence comes from valid, unbiased sources.


Action, the last stage of the persuasive formula, is the specific thing that you want your audience to do, whether it’s voting in support of a proposed change, participating in program, volunteering for a project, attending training sessions, agreeing to changing your office location, or any of an infinite number of things.  When you create a persuasive message, always make sure to specify this action clearly, including (as appropriate) a timeframe, deadlines, contact information, and any other details that help your audience understand exactly how to comply.

To hear a review of the AIDEA approach, view the following short video.

More on Desire & Evidence – Logical & Emotional Appeals

Two types of appeals—logical and emotional—can help you persuade your audience by creating desire and offering evidence.  Emotional appeals based on human needs create desire in your audience to participate in the benefits that what you’re proposing can provide, e.g., more financial security, acceptance into a community, fulfillment of a personal goal.  Logical appeals are based on reasoning and researched evidence.  In general, professional writing focuses more fully on reasoning and evidence to make a case, although in certain instances emotional appeals are appropriate.  For example, in the discussion of evidence related to a workplace-sponsored exercise program, you should probably focus more fully on the research about benefits than emotional appeals.  However, emotional appeals can logically be used as secondary appeals, if you think that your audience will benefit from exercising as part of a community of persons with similar goals, or if you know that many co-workers have expressed a personal desire to fulfill a fitness goal.

The following video discusses how to balance logical and emotional appeals.

AIDEA Approach in Action

The following video show the AIDEA approach in action.  In the video, an instructor describes how a student has applied the AIDEA approach to a professional communication created for a specific course.

A Note on Persuasion and Social Media

Note that persuasion may no longer be a one-to-one or one-to-many communication.  With social media, what starts out as a one-to-one or one-to-many communication may easily become many-to-many, with others joining a discussion and offering their views.  Amateur as well as professional influencers exist, and a persuasive strategy may include or even start by using people in these roles.  But persuasion itself still relies on addressing your audience’s needs and providing appropriate evidence to yield measurable gain.