Character First, the organization that creates the material that we use at the Owasso Character Council, defines persuasiveness as “guiding vital truths around another’s roadblocks.”
But persuasiveness has a different, generally accepted, meaning in our culture today. Like many of the character traits identified by Character First, the trait itself has a number of negative sides that challenge the meaning and the benefit of the positive side of most of the traits.
Persuasiveness is defined as the ability “to induce to undertake a course of action or embrace a point of view by means of argument, reasoning or entreaty;” according to the Free Online Dictionary.
There are many negative consequences that come from misapplication of the character trait of Persuasiveness. For this article, I’ll mention 3.
Negative course of action – Often, the negative side of persuasiveness is related to the course of action. Bernie Madoff induced a number of people to undertake a course of action that appeared to benefit him in the short run, cause the loss of millions and has finally placed him in jail. There is little positive about persuasion when the course of action is not related to a vital truth.
Negative Means – Other times, the negative side of persuasion appears through the means used to persuade. We’ve all seen examples of persuasion that we would call spin, misleading, or outright lies. You never see anyone hung over, overweight or unhappy in a beer ad? Or a fast food ad? When we omit facts or mislead, we substitute manipulation for persuasion
Negative Outcome – We can sometimes even take persuasion to the point of coercion if we’re not careful. Coercion is forcing someone to do what we want. Often we didn’t mean to coerce someone, but they may have felt coerced because of fear or position. How many people work for companies they don’t trust because they’re afraid that if they speak up they might be unemployed. In the end, they keep their job but they disengage, check out, or live a dual life, never giving their best efforts.
Three Ingredients for Positive Persuasion
Persuasiveness is a positive character trait when we persuade with respect, humility and fairness.
- Respect: Do we value the other person and their right to make their own free decisions?
- Humility: Might we be wrong? Are we looking for the greatest, highest vital truth?
- Fairness: Will the action we prefer truly be in the best interest of all involved?
Persuaded in this manner, people engage, feeling like a full partner and contributor. They bring their best energy to the group, further the effort, and create positive results. Their energy is contagious and multiplies. We all know of successful teams and organizations where each member contributes more and benefits more. They were persuaded to give their best effort in pursuit of a noble goal that included them. Even if their performance must be corrected or they must be persuaded again, they are persuaded with respect for the individual, humility (or a goal focus) and fairly, objectively corrected based on facts without personal attack.
When we demonstrate persuasiveness with respect, humility and fairness, we build others up, help people in their pursuit of vital truths, and we create a better community. Any other form of persuasiveness demonstrates a lack of character.
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