More specifically, as psychologist Richard N. Perloff explained years ago in his book The Dynamics of Persuasion, we can avoid coercion by sticking to symbolic communication in the form of messages meant to alter another person’s attitudes, beliefs, or both via the “voluntary acceptance” of those messages. According to Perloff, you can differentiate coercion from persuasion when “dire consequences” are employed to encourage someone to act “as the coercer wants them to act, and presumably contrary to their preferences.” He adds that when people believe they are free to reject the communicator, that’s when ethical persuasion is at play. It’s only “when individuals perceive that they have no choice but to comply, the influence attempt is better viewed as coercive.”
Persuasion is not coercion, and it is also not an attempt to defeat your intellectual opponent with facts or moral superiority, nor is it a debate with a winner or a loser. Persuasion is leading a person along in stages, helping them to better understand their own thinking and how it could align with the message at hand. You can’t persuade another person to change their mind if that person doesn’t want to do so, and as you will see, the techniques that work best focus on a person’s motivations more than their conclusions.
We will learn that, in many ways, persuasion is mostly encouraging people to realize change is possible. All persuasion is self-persuasion. People change or refuse based on their own desires, motivations, and internal counterarguing, and by focusing on these factors, an argument becomes more likely to change minds. As psychologist Joel Whalen once put it, “You can’t move a string by pushing it, you have to pull it.”
From “How Minds Change: The Surprising Science of Belief, Opinion, and Persuasion” by David McRaney