Handbook of Communication and Social Interaction Skills

By John O. Greene; Brant R. Burleson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 12
PERSUASION AS A SOCIAL SKILL
James Price Dillard
Linda J. Marshall
University of Wisconsin—Madison

On some occasions, it is illuminating to view the various means by which individuals endeavor to “get their way” as arrayed on a continuum (cf., Brown & Levinson, 1987; Hunter & Boster, 1988). The continuum is bounded at one end by no message behavior, that is, doing nothing. This anchor accurately reflects the fact that there are many instances in which individuals wish to achieve some persuasive end but judge that the effort will not be worth the trouble (Dillard, 1990a, 1990b; Solomon & Samp, 1998), so they take no action whatsoever. If this is defined as the left pole of the dimension, then as we move slightly to the right we encounter an assortment of “nice” techniques that might include a simple, polite request, a promise of a future favor in return for compliance today, or an appeal to the target's sense of altruism (“Will you help me?”). Further movement to the right traverses territory that becomes increasingly hostile, moving through criticism, negative altercasting (“Only a bad person could refuse my request”), and threat, before arriving at the opposite anchor: physical aggression.

The focus of this chapter is on that vast area between the two poles, although not on the poles themselves. Broadly speaking, this area can be called social influence. In using that term, however, we wish to be clear that our coverage is limited to social interactions that involve verbal exchanges, or their near equivalents, not on phenomena such as conformity, group pressure, or subliminal influence. Thus, we examine literature pertaining to interpersonal influence, much of which highlights messages that are brief, relatively spontaneous, lacking in detailed argumentative structure, and focused on personal objectives. In addition, we integrate persuasion research. This latter body of work is characterized by longer messages, usually carefully planned, often consisting of a fairly lengthy number of arguments on topics of social, political, and commercial interest. Because interpersonal influence and persuasion comprise historically distinct research traditions, many possible points of integration remain undeveloped. Consideration of these literatures jointly should serve to highlight commonalities and reveal the contributions of each toward answering questions of social skill. Except where specified, we use the terms influence and persuasion interchangeably.

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