Persuasive Communication: Theories, Skills & Techniques

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  • 0:02 What Is Persuasion?
  • 1:04 The Rational Model
  • 3:13 When Facts Aren't Enough
  • 4:32 Cognitive Dissonance
  • 5:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

Expert Contributor
Jenna Clayton

Jenna received her BA in English from Iowa State University in 2015, and she has taught at the secondary level for three years.

Persuasive communication can be an effective way to change the minds and behaviors of those with whom you disagree. In this lesson, you'll learn about cognitive dissonance theory and the rational model of persuasion and how to apply them.

What is Persuasion?

What do advertisements and debate club have in common?

They're both examples of persuasive techniques at work.

Persuasion basically means trying to influence the way someone thinks or behaves. There are all kinds of different ways to persuade someone to do something. The ad is using an appeal to emotion. It's associating the soda with being happy, so it's trying to persuade you to buy the soda so you'll be happy like the people in the ad. The students at the debate club are doing something different. Instead of appealing to emotion, they're trying to persuade each other with logical arguments that use facts and evidence.

Being persuasive isn't the same thing as being right. The implied claim in the soda ad is that drinking the soda will give you a lot of friends and make you happy. That's objectively not true. But that kind of advertising can be very persuasive, and a lot of people are influenced by it. In this lesson, you'll look at theories of persuasion and how they work.

The Rational Model

The rational model of persuasion is based on the idea that people behave in predictable ways based on their beliefs and values. Beliefs and values are based on what the person knows about the world. So for example, if someone knows that wearing a seatbelt saves lives and if he or she values their own life, they probably believe that they should wear a seatbelt. Based on their beliefs and values, they will probably behave in a rational way and wear their seatbelt in the car.

The rational model can get pretty complicated. For example, most of us believe that a salad is healthier than pizza, but lots and lots of people every day go into restaurants and order pizza instead of salads. What gives? One possible answer is that those people have conflicting values and beliefs. They might believe that salad is healthier, but they might also believe that pizza is more delicious. They might value health, but they might also value pleasure.

A person with complicated beliefs and values might sometimes order a salad and sometimes order a pizza. When it comes to the important things in life, a lot of us have complicated and conflicting beliefs and values, and we don't necessarily act in simple ways. So the rational model of persuasion can be complicated. But it's still a useful tool for understanding why people think and act the way they do and what you can do to change their mind or change their behavior - or both.

In the rational model, people's behavior is based on their beliefs and values. Their beliefs and values are based on what they know (or think they know!) about the world. So if you want to change their behavior, you'd have to change their beliefs and/or values.

If the person's beliefs are based on an incorrect fact, you can persuade them to change their beliefs by showing them the truth. For example, say a person thinks that Highway X is under construction. Because she believes that construction will cause her serious delays and because she values her time, she won't take Highway X. But if you can prove to her that the construction on Highway X got finished last week, you can change her behavior.

Simple, right? Just give the person the correct facts. Voila, persuasion accomplished!

When Facts Aren't Enough

The rational persuasion model can get complicated. You might give someone the facts, but they might not believe you because they think there's a conspiracy to hide the truth and only they can see reality. Or sometimes, there are conflicting facts about a particular situation. For example, some studies show that fish oil supplements help prevent heart disease, and other studies show that they don't help.

Or here's another scenario when just providing the facts doesn't help: what happens when two reasonable people have two different beliefs or values about the same set of facts?

Stimulation Example

Telling the person in green that pandas are endangered won't change his mind at all. He already knows! If you want him to change his behavior and support the WWF, you'd have to address his beliefs and values.

First, respectfully acknowledge the belief and find something in common. Calling someone stupid isn't very persuasive. Most people will just get defensive and stop listening to you. Try to find common ground. Acknowledging the belief and trying to find common ground this way is called stimulation.

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Additional Activities

Persuasive Communication Activities

Short-Answer Essay Questions

For this activity, respond to one or more of the following short-answer essay questions about persuasive communication. Since these are short-answer essay questions, it is perfectly okay to keep your responses to two or three paragraphs. Although your answers are relatively short, make sure that you thoroughly answer all components of the question.


  1. Describe the rational model of persuasion. Use an example when describing this model.
  2. Give an example of how a person would persuade someone using cognitive dissonance.
  3. Think of a commercial that appeals to emotion. First, describe the commercial and then explain how this commercial appeals to the public's emotions.

A possible response to Question #3:

One commercial that is known for its emotional appeal is the ASPCA commercial. In this commercial, sad and depressing images are shown of cats and dogs in cages. These poor animals are malnourished, scared, and unhealthy. Also, in between the images of heartbroken animals are facts about animal abuse. While these images are being displayed, Sarah McLachlan's popular song, "In the Arms of An Angel" is being played in the background.

This commercial appeals to the public's emotions because most people like cats and/or dogs, and they don't want to see them suffer. Also, seeing animals in such a vulnerable state makes the public feel even worse. Besides this, an emotional song is being played in the background. The song is about a person who has died, and is now "in the arms of an angel." When viewing this commercial, it is difficult not to feel sad for these helpless animals. Although many people may feel that the emotional appeal is too strong, it is effective as many are persuaded to donate to the ASPCA.

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