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November 9, 2013

A Word of Advice: Used properly, the power of persuasion is strong

The Daily Star

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Persuasion is often viewed as a dirty thing in our modern-day society, like you’re being unhonorably sly by trying to get someone to do something or think a certain way. However, in the modern, world it’s typically the best and most efficient way of getting what you want. There are do’s and don’ts to persuasion and coercion just like anything; lines you can’t cross and whatnot.

It’s better to start with persuasive skills before going into the ethical limits of persuasion. The key to persuasion is appearing to be casual the entire time while talking to whoever, or as many call it, “keeping your cool.”  If you’re trying to tell your teacher that your pooch consumed your schoolwork, they won’t believe you when you’re shaking out of your sneakers and sliding around in your own sweat. The best thing to do is mentally convince yourself what you’re saying is almost true, or just not think about it as you say it. This way, it’ll be harder for whomever you’re tricking to see through your bluff. In addition, throwing in arbitrary details with your false alibi make your story seem more well-rounded and realistic. For example, which sounds more legitimate? “My dog ate my homework” or “My dog ate my homework; it was terrible. We had to take Scruffy to the vet. He’s gonna be away for three days getting checked out. Didn’t quite digest right …” I think my point is clear.

That was all mostly about trying to convince somebody things that aren’t true; however, arguments are typically stronger (and more respectable) for things that are true. One thing somebody has on his side when trying to persuade somebody to side with a certain position on something or something of that nature is cold, hard facts. Stating facts in a real debate, or when trying to get somebody to side with you, is important, as well as pulling said facts from reliable sources such as unbiased news sources, as opposed to, say, a random Youtube video. 

Beyond really making a compelling argument based on your main points, attitude means everything when trying to assert your legitimacy. Asserting your side of things confidently and without doubt make you really look like you know what you’re talking about, even if you know your argument has flaws. This can easily convince an uninformed person that your way is really the right way. Even in informed debate, this will at least intimidate your opponent.

With all of the do’s of coercion there are just as many don’ts, even beyond moral don’ts. First and foremost, you should never talk over somebody while debating or resort to what experienced debaters like to call “ad-hominem,” or somebody trying to claim another person’s viewpoint as illegitimate simply because of somebody’s personal past. In other words, no low blows if you want to be taken seriously in a mature argument. In addition, counterpoints should only be made once, maybe a few times at best, since simply recycling the same thing over and over will make you sound bad or defeated in your argument, both to your opponent and the spectators watching you. Going back to convincing people of things that aren’t true, never add things into your alibi that you could be called out for later on. For example, going back to the dog ate your homework example, you shouldn’t say that said dog got x-rays, because if you, do the teacher could simply ask for you to bring those x-rays into class the next day.

Now, there are a lot of lines that should never be crossed in the art of persuasion. Lying isn’t a good thing and should never be used on a frequent basis. In most cases, it can and will backfire on you and should only be used as a personal last resort when all other options are thrown out the window. Lying should never be used in cases especially related to death, serious matters, or anybody involved in law enforcement. There are also several topics where people just won’t be persuaded and shouldn’t be bothered, including fresh political topics involving tragedy, religion and other things of that sensitive and personal nature. Simply remember, with great power comes great responsibility, and you should always be careful how you work that silver tongue, as not to lose trust in others and render it useless, even when speaking the truth.

Austin Czechowski is a junior at Cobleskill-Richmondville High School. Would you like A Word of Advice from him? Send him an email at, or send him a letter to “Teen Talk: A Word of Advice,” C/O The Daily Star, P.O. Box 250, Oneonta, NY 13820. ‘Teen Talk’ columns can be found at