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Rational persuasion: How to influence your team through logic

October 5, 2021 - 13 min read


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What is rational persuasion?

What is influential leadership?

Why does rational persuasion work when influencing people?

Authenticity and rational persuasion

8 other tactics to improve your influence

Example of rational persuasion

Make rational persuasion work for you

Are you a team leader whose influence attempts often fall flat and fail to win the support of others? If so, the problem probably isn’t you. It’s your influencing tactics

According to Aristotle, effective persuasion appeals to one of three aspects of the psyche: 

  • Logic (logos)
  • Ethics (ethos) 
  • Emotions (pathos) 

Rational persuasion is an influence behavior that appeals to logic using facts, data, and examples. This makes it one of the most effective influencing tactics available to leaders.

Read on to discover the rational persuasion definition, the benefits of rational persuasion, an example of rational persuasion, and how to become a more influential leader using the rational persuasion influence tactic.

What is rational persuasion? 

Rational persuasion involves providing evidence such as data, statistics, and reports that justify the need and relevance of a request.

Researchers David Kipnis, Stuart M. Schmidt, and Ian F. Wilkinson outlined it as one of nine influence tactics in the 1980s.

Then, Professor Gary Yukl, a psychologist at the State University of New York, designated it as 1 of the 11 influence tactics that managers tend to use.

According to this research, rational persuasion employs logical arguments and factual evidence. Leaders can use it to legitimize their requests and win the support of their teams. 

With rational persuasion, the goal is to convince team members that the proposed course of action is the most logical and appropriate one. 

When it comes to wielding influence, there are both “hard” and “soft” tactics (more on this below). Rational persuasion is considered a soft influence tactic. This is because it involves getting the team behind an idea rather than forcing it on them against their will. 

However, it is a top-down approach to influencing because the logic or rationale is that of the leader.


What is influential leadership?

As humans, we are constantly influencing one another, often without even realizing it. The first people we learn to influence are our parents or guardians. By the time we go to school, we have learned which influencing tactics work best on them.

Our society is built on influence. Influence in real life might look like buying a product because you saw someone talking about it on social media or recommending a restaurant to a friend.

Influential leadership refers to the strategies leaders use to influence their teams. The way leaders use this position of power can affect employee behavior and organizational performance. And according to research, it’s the carrot, not the stick, that gets the best results.

Influence in the workplace is directly linked to power. People with the ability to influence others also have power within the organization.

Leadership is built on different types of power, including:

  • Legitimate power
  • Coercive power
  • Reward power 
  • Referent power
  • Personal power
  • Expert power

Like influencing tactics, some of these types of power are more effective than others. The most successful influential leaders avoid strategies such as workplace coercion since they may be harmful to the morale and employee engagement of their teams. 

Instead, they lead by example and display behaviors that affect the way their team members think, feel, and behave at work. 

For example, if communication is a problem within a team, a leader can influence the team by learning to be a better communicator themselves. Then, they can communicate in a way that others can follow. 


Why does rational persuasion work when influencing people? 

Put simply, rational persuasion works because it’s hard to argue with facts. A leader who wishes to influence their team might use rational persuasion to win their trust and support. This increases their chances of success.

Rational persuasion must rely on the use of facts and a robust argument to be effective. The influencer must be perceived as having greater expertise or access to better evidence than the people they want to influence.

Rational persuasion only works when it leads to a logical conclusion. It should help team members understand the rationale, necessity, and relevance of a particular decision.

As a leader, it can help increase your team’s trust in your judgment and decision-making. It is a transparent approach that is more likely to get team buy-in than hard influence tactics.


Authenticity and rational persuasion

Rational persuasion rests on the twin pillars of knowledge and factual evidence. But without authenticity, rational persuasion can fall flat.

Being authentic when using rational persuasion means being an authority on the subject you’re talking about. 

You can create a perfect presentation with charts, graphs, and data to support your argument. But if you’re not prepared to answer the questions that follow, or if your argument is based on false logic or misrepresentation of facts, you will quickly lose the engagement and trust of your team.

This is why it’s essential to be honest and transparent and avoid falsifying information in order to achieve your desired outcome. If you don’t believe what you’re saying, your team won’t either, and it will be difficult to influence them.

8 other tactics to improve your influence

Rational persuasion is just one of a set of influence tactics available to leaders. There are two main categories of tactics: hard and soft. 

In general, soft influencing tactics are more effective, but hard tactics can also work when used in certain situations. To understand this concept better, let’s take a look at a few hard and soft influence tactics and how they work.

Hard influence tactics

First, let’s look at four hard influence tactics.

  1. Pressure: This is perhaps the least effective influence tactic. Although it might get immediate results, over time, it can lead to poor performance and high employee turnover

A leader might exert pressure through intimidation or threats. For example, threatening to fire someone if they fail to comply with a request is a pressure tactic. These are toxic leadership traits that, over time, erode trust and reduce productivity.

  1. Requesting: This tactic involves using your leadership position to get your team to act according to your request. 

For example, your boss might ask you to step in and lead a client meeting when they get called away at the last minute.

  1. Legitimating: This is similar to requesting but relies on authority to give legitimacy to the request. This might be management directives, corporate documents, or rules, regulations, and laws.

For example, a leader might say, “The CEO asked me to nominate the team members responsible for the annual audit.” Since this directive comes from a higher authority, it carries greater weight.

  1. Coalition: Coalition tactics are similar to legitimating tactics. But instead of appealing to the power of authority, it relies on strength in numbers and a consensus (whether real or not). 

For example, you might tell your team that a decision to reduce the budget comes from the CFO and management team.


Soft influence tactics

Now, let’s look at four soft influence tactics.

  1. Ingratiation: Leaders who use ingratiating tactics focus on the other person as an effective way to influence them. They use flattery and praise before making any influence attempts, which is why this tactic is also known as socializing.

To help appeal to the other person, the leader uses praise to put them into a good mood.

For example, a leader might say, “I was really impressed with how you handled that client meeting I dumped on you at the last minute. It would be great if you could take over all meetings with them from now on.”

  1. Personal appeals: This type of request is based on the relationship between the two people involved. It appeals to the emotional aspect of that relationship. 

For example, before making a request, you might say something like, “I need to ask a favor, and you’re the only one I can trust.”

  1. Inspirational appeal: This type of request is highly effective because it appeals to people’s emotions and values. A truly influential leader knows and values their team members as individuals. This enables them to access and activate their commitment.

For example, you might say to your team member, “You have a great sense of diplomacy as well as a sharp mind for business. I’d like you to be in charge of the negotiation team.”

  1. Exchange: Through exchange, leaders influence their team members by offering a reward in exchange for acting on the request.

For example, you might let your team take Friday off in exchange for staying overtime the rest of the week to meet a deadline.

Example of rational persuasion

To illustrate how rational persuasion might work in real life, let’s take the example of a marketing agency. Marketers are required to keep up with rapidly evolving trends in the worlds of marketing, technology, and social media. 

Each time a new innovation is available, the company must adapt to stay relevant and meet their clients’ needs. But with so much already on their plates, agency employees may be hesitant to jump on a new marketing trend, such as programmatic audio ads. 

However, in this example, the management team knows that programmatic audio can help their clients reach more people and grow more quickly. So they use data and statistics on audio ad reach and programmatic capabilities to influence the marketing team. This helps the marketing team see the value of integrating this new service.


Make rational persuasion work for you

Mastering rational persuasion and the other influencing tactics can strengthen your leadership skills and help you lead your team to better results. 

Knowing when to employ each tactic is a skill that often comes with experience. 

If you want to strengthen your influencing skills or any other aspect of your leadership style, get in touch with one of BetterUp’s expert coaches and learn how to make rational persuasion work for you.


Published October 5, 2021

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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