When Persuasion Fails: The Correct Use of Force


There are many reasons we fail to persuade others. A failure to persuade can result from something as basic as your delivery to more complex factors like environment and context. Imagine trying to convince someone to go for a long walk by the beach with you when it rains; yes, it is possible, but the weather affects your approach and potentially the outcome of your persuasive attempts.

We can, rightfully, spend hours talking about the importance of environmental factors to communication. Still, I want to discuss one particular aspect of proper leadership that is often ignored or downplayed in our current social climate – the use of force.

Now, you need to understand that my definition of force does not imply or include the use of violence.

Physical or psychological aggression is never desirable in balanced social conditions. Force, in this case, is the use of personal authority to imply that someone must do something to achieve optimal effects. Sometimes, and though it can be challenging to know when these times come up, we need to exert our power over others to lead them in the right direction. We need to apply the right amount of pressure.

The failure often happens in assessing circumstances of an interaction correctly and knowing how much pressure to apply in our communication with others. Power dynamics are of critical importance to social cohesion, and we have to understand how to manage them.

Think of managing insubordination in a well-established business hierarchy. Depending on why the chain of command is defied, the boss must curb the enthusiasm of the employee’s disobedience. Imagine a coach who needs to get a refusing athlete to play well with the rest of the team. In both cases, regular communication has failed, and the people in charge must exert a different kind of pressure on the people betraying the rules. In both cases, failure to apply the correct type of force is detrimental to the group and its members.

Strategic use of force

It is the definition of force that matters to persuasion and leadership, and we need not be afraid to use it strategically. It is a worthwhile exercise to think about what conditions require the proper application of pressure. Obviously, those conditions are also affected by a plethora of factors about the individual and their environment.

I want to leave you with this: Kindness is ultimately the right approach to resolution, but it is essential to be ready to stand firm in defence of our principles; especially, when the most important of them, like kindness, is threatened.


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