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I've spent a fair amount of time thinking about the nature of persuasive arguments. Why is one person good at it, and not another?

Certainly, one needs well-framed and well-developed content and a delivery style people find pleasant to listen to or read—after all, people aren't stupid and they won't pay attention unless they want to. But that's all theory... in order to become more persuasive in person or in print, I needed to understand more about the structure of persuasion. I developed the Matrix of Persuasion to help me persuade others to my points of view.

You'll notice that across the top I'm contrasting two variables: are people "on your side"? Or not? On the left, I'm considering whether people have the resources they need to do as I ask. Are they constrained? Or not?

As an aside, I'll mention that while I'm presenting the matrix to you as black and white—people either are constrained or they aren't—it's not that simple. There's degrees. Someone might have the money, but not the time, for instance. Likewise on the variables of whether they're on your side or not—they may know you only a little bit. Think of the matrix as a bit amorphous—more gray than black and white.

Matrix of Persuasion

By identifying which of the four quadrants your persuasive task fits into, you'll be better able to identify your readers' or listeners' needs, and thus write or speak more effectively.

As you review the matrix, note that you're first asked to determine if your target readers are "On your side" or "Not on your side." Think about the people you're trying to reach. Do they know you? Do they like you? Are they predisposed in your favor? Or not?

Next, consider whether they're capable of doing as you ask, or are they constrained? Do they have the requisite time, authority, interest, motivation, money, or whatever resources are needed to do what you're hoping they will do? Or are there constraints that you'll need to help them overcome?

The implications are expressed as bullet points within each quadrant. Doesn't it make sense that if you're trying to persuade someone to do something they're capable of doing, it's an easier persuasion task than trying to persuade someone to do something when they don't know who you are? In that case, first you have to educate them as to why you're credible.

The Matrix of Persuasion is a "big-picture" tool. It will help you get your thoughts in order. It allows you to take what you know and consider how best to use this information to influence outcomes by analyzing the anatomy of persuasion

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