October 7, 2003 Feature

The Art of Interpersonal Persuasion

Much of what professionals do in their day-to-day interactions with patients, colleagues, and the general public involves persuasion in one form or another. As audiologists and speech-language pathologists work to build successful practices, or work in any organizational structure, it is imperative that they become familiar with the processes involved in effective interpersonal persuasion and its potential impact, including strategies for creating an atmosphere that can result in constructive change and creative ways to shape outcomes. Interpersonal persuasion also involves effective interpersonal communication. One cannot easily separate the two.

Interpersonal persuasion not only involves what we say, but very importantly what we do in communication interactions. What we do may involve our manner of dress, body language, gestures, manner of eye contact, and personal grooming. In many instances, nonverbal communication can be just as important as what we say.

The intended result of the interaction is a change in attitudes, behaviors, or beliefs of the person with whom we are communicating, and perhaps constructive resolutions. However, unpredictability makes interpersonal persuasion particularly challenging.

Many people are not skilled at interpersonal persuasion, simply because they do not do well in attending to all of the events that can occur during such interactions. But in order to be fruitful in our daily interactions with patients, colleagues, and the public, it is imperative that we learn how to effectively engage in this complex but important aspect of our professional life.

The process of interpersonal persuasion begins with how we respond to others in meetings, presentations, and interviews. It involves our ability to respond effectively to questions and challenges, and engage in the interactions that occur throughout each day. Interpersonal persuasion does not mean always winning. Instead, it means being able to create and convey appropriate responses, to identify and explain creative solutions, and to motivate people to positive change, all through verbal and nonverbal interaction, and through an atmosphere that we create that is conducive to constructive interactive communication.

Nonverbal Aspects of Communication

What we do not say can sometimes be as powerful as words and may significantly affect interpersonal persuasion. Everything from our handshake to the manner in which we sit can give impressions that can either enhance or undercut how we intend to communicate or persuade. Presenting yourself in a calm, nurturing manner makes people feel at ease.

Other aspects of non-verbal communication that are well worth learning are effective body language—maintaining poise with calming mannerisms and thus creating a genuinely comforting atmosphere; the proper use—not overuse—of gestures; keeping a comfortable distance—18 to 36 inches doesn’t invade the other person’s social space whereas further away may create a feeling of disengagement; controlling your handshake—not limp and not overly strong; maintaining an open, relaxed stance; and avoiding random gestures that indicate either a lack of confidence or a lack of control over the situation.

Finally, in all situations in which effective interpersonal persuasion or interpersonal communication is paramount—in meetings, professional presentations, interviews, discussions with colleagues in which policy is being challenged, or in patient interactions—it is most important to remember to present yourself with poise, to remain calm, to be honest in your responses. In addition, confidence with a touch of “positive vulnerability” adds an empathetic note to interpersonal communication—and reflects a sensitivity that persuades and makes others feel at ease.

Ray H. Hull, holds dual certification in audiology and speech-language pathology and is a professor in the Department of Communicative Disorders and Sciences at Wichita State University. Contact him by e-mail at ray.hull@wichita.edu.

cite as: Hull, R. H. (2003, October 07). The Art of Interpersonal Persuasion. The ASHA Leader.

Interpersonal Persuasion: Additional Information

Rules for Conflict Resolution

  • Keep a sense of humor. Do not let the conflict become more serious than it deserves to be.
  • Shoot for a win-win resolution. The goal should be to reach a positive solution. Compromise is key.
  • Express your feelings. If you feel resentful, say it. Keeping it bottled up may result in an explosion of emotion.
  • Communicate clearly, directly, and openly. Do not expect others to read your mind. They may guess incorrectly.
  • Discuss and analyze only one point at a time. Stay on the subject.
  • Never take a cheap shot. No hitting below the belt, and absolutely no ridiculing.
  • Don’t make a big deal about a trivial issue. If you do, consider why and what it is you are really after.
  • If you are wrong, admit it. An apology may be all it takes to end a potential conflict.
  • Timing is everything.   Discuss a resolution at a time when everyone is emotionally ready for the discussion—not at 5 p.m. on Friday.
  • At some point, everyone fights dirty. Or, they may say things that they regret later. Forgive, forget, and get over it.

Tips for Effective Interpersonal Persuasion

Be Well Prepared

  • Take time to consider various options and questions prior to the interaction so that you will not be caught off guard—consider, for example, the key question: What haven’t I asked or what haven’t I been asked?
  • Look for contradictions or gaps in logic during the discussion that may assist in clarifying or resolving issues.
  • Keep your responses to questions concise, and do not give more information than is requested.

Never Look Flustered—Even if You Don’t Know the Answer

  • Appear contemplative, but not puzzled when you are searching for an appropriate response.
  • There is no shame in saying, “I don’t know,” as long as it is not said frequently.
  • Consider saying, “That’s a very good question…let me think about it for a moment.”
  • If you are unsure of the meaning of a question, ask for a restatement in different terms.
  • Do not respond simultaneously to multiple questions contained in one comprehensive question. Separate them and respond to the parts about which you feel most comfortable.
  • If you cannot answer a question directly, or the question is too complex to answer succinctly, relate it to a similar issue that you feel more confident addressing.

Keep Your Cool

  • Never become emotional! Maintain an air of serenity.
  • Never get into a shouting match.


Reardon, K. K. (1991). Persuasion in practice. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.

Vantage. (1998). On human communication. Wichita, KS: WSU Office of Human Resources. 


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