Ethics of Persuasion

Persuasion is widely accepted as unethical if used for personal gain at the expense of others or personal gain without the audience’s knowledge. Most persuasion measures have been declared to be dishonest.

For instance, coercive smuggling or brainwashing do not pose ethical issues. Barring most compelling persuasive methods are identifiable as unethical, the line between ethical and unethical is less lucidly demarcated.

Several qualities are absent in unethical persuasion. When you ask questions about ethics in a persuasive attempt, they are often tested.

Goals of persuasion ethics

An ethical persuasion attempts to avoid unwanted consequences in their outcome. These outcomes may have a direct impact on the target audience, or they might affect them indirectly. Another goal of ethical persuasion is to ensure that the targeted individuals do not get hurt in the process.

Ethical persuasion should stick to the following objectives:

  • Understand the view of an opponent
  • Explain the persuader’s viewpoint
  • Create a solution for the problem
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Principles of persuasion

Robert Cialdini introduced 6 principles of persuasion in his book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”. These principles have been used to design persuasion techniques. You can easily improve your persuasion strategies and achieve significant results.

Reciprocity

Reciprocity means giving something in return for a favor. It’s a very powerful move that can affect your business strategy and your personal life. In reciprocity theory, people feel compelled to offer discounts or concessions to others if they have received favors from those individuals.

According to psychology, we hate to be indebted to others and have to settle a debt.

Authority

The use of symbols or messengers held in high regard from elite social status, formal titles, and recognizable experiences. People believe what they know more, especially if they’re convinced their knowledge comes from an authentic source. It also increases message authenticity.

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Scarcity

The scarcity principle states that items in limited supply are in high demand. We perceive the products as more attractive when their availability is limited.

We’re more likely to purchase something if we’re aware that it’s the “final one” or that a “limited time only” offer will soon come to an end.

In a nutshell, we’re sad to miss out, and that anxiety is a tremendous force pushing us to act right away. We wrote a dedicated article about scarcity in marketing if you want to know more.

Liking

The message is designed in a way that we feel we know and identify with the messenger. Liking is firmly based on sharing something similar, whether it’s superficial or underneath the surface.

We are more influenced by people close to us, and we feel a personal connection to them.

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Consistency

The principle of consistency declares that we have a deep need to be seen as predictable and perceive others as predictable. That’s why, once we’ve publicly committed to something or someone, we’re much more likely to deliver on that commitment.

Likewise, we will uphold these positions regardless of outside influence when we take public stances on issues.

Social proof

Social proof is about providing people with an easy path towards making your point of view their own. But, of course, we’re even more influenced by this effect if we’re unsure of our decision or the people we observe are somehow similar to us.

We illustrated this effect by an example in our article about social proof. If a particular restaurant is full, it’s more likely that we want to go there.

Some of these principles have solid ethical components to them, while others are more ambiguous. For instance, Cialdini’s scarcity principle can come across as unethical. This is because it tries to convince the audience that there is no other option available but to buy your product or service.

Using authority as a tool has both ethical and unethical components. For example, you are trying to persuade your audience that what you are saying is correct by having a person held in high regard argue for this point of view. In that case, the principle seems to be ethical.

On the other hand, it is unethical when using authority as a tool implies forcing their views on people without giving them reasons or evidence.

How to ensure ethical persuasion?

There are two components of effecting a persuasive ethical message: the medium and the message.

How you choose your messenger can determine whether it would be moral or not, as explained above. What you say in your message should also abide by the ethics of communication that society follows.

For example, using profanity is not at all ethical. You should also be honest and present the information relevant to your main idea without distortion or omission of facts.

persuasive businessman

The TARES test

Sherry Baker and David L. Martinson first implemented the TARES test in 2001. TARES is an acronym that defines the 5 ethical principles in persuasion.

  • Truthfulness – is what you communicate true?
  • Authenticity – do you believe in your message?
  • Respect – do you communicate your message respectfully?
  • Equity – is your message available to everyone?
  • Social responsibility – does your message benefits the community?

However, the particular items may occasionally contradict one another. As a result of this contradiction, an ethical issue can arise. An ethical dilemma is defined as a situation in which two rights conflict.

There is rarely a clear, correct answer in ethical choice-making circumstances. When being honest may have a detrimental influence on the general public. For example, a moral issue arises, demanding that you question the social responsibility of the work.

In ethical decision-making, there is rarely a simple solution. Baker and Martinson created the TARES test to facilitate a discussion so that the conveyer may examine the moral dimensions of his or her message.

Every aspect should be evaluated and weighed against the overall good versus the general evil of the message and the message’s potential consequences.

Conclusion

The five principles of ethics in persuasion are truthfulness, authenticity, respect, equity, and social responsibility. These five principles all have ethical components to them, and some are more ambiguous than others.

For example, the principle of scarcity is an unethical technique in persuasion because it tries to convince people there is no other option available but buying your product or service. Likewise, using authority as a tool has both ethical and unethical components.

Suppose you are trying to persuade your audience that what you are saying is correct by having a person who is held in high regard argue for this point of view. In that case, the principle seems to be ethical. But, on the other hand, it is unethical when using authority as a tool implies forcing their views on people without giving them reasons or evidence.

In all ethical decision-making, there is rarely a simple solution. So Baker and Martinson created the TARES test to facilitate a discussion about the moral dimensions to examine their work’s potential consequences and its overall good or evil nature.

Author

Experienced psychologist and T-shaped marketer with a deep love for content marketing and conversion copywriting. Privately a big fan of travel, coffee, and jazz!

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