Persuasive Encounters: A Theoretical Overview
I had rather be their servant in my way Than sway with them in theirs.1 William Shakespeare
When considered from its traditional model as an adjustive process, persuasion that is specifically addressed to a hostile audience looks like a strategic mistake. Our instincts tell us that bald challenges to attitudes that others firmly hold are almost certainly doomed to failure. We usually act on the assumption that any successful persuasive message will find as many ways as possible to soften differences that separate communicators. In this view, attitude change-if it comes at all -- occurs only after careful adaptation has cleared a path of common ground that everyone can follow.
This valid assumption is partly what accounts for the drama of the encounters that follow, but it is at least partly mistaken. The purpose of the first half of this chapter is to trace in broad strokes two very different intellectual traditions that have been used to account for communication that deals with conflict. Most theories for predicting and analyzing persuasion fall into one of these patterns. The first focuses on the assumed requirement for adaptation, a requirement that seems to lie at the very nexus of successful communication. The second, resting on both old and new observations about the use of persuasive discourse as an advisory tool, challenges this requirement by providing psychological and ethical justifications for risking verbal conflict. Whether or not persuaders think in the terms of these traditions, most must still cope with the different options they