Farnam Street helps you make better decisions, innovate, and avoid stupidity.

With over 400,000 monthly readers and more than 93,000 subscribers to our popular weekly digest, we've become an online intellectual hub.

The Difference Between Persuading and Convincing

Too often we try to convince people when we really should persuade them.

Seth Godin writes:

Marketers don’t convince. Engineers convince. Marketers persuade. Persuasion appeals to the emotions and to fear and to the imagination. Convincing requires a spreadsheet or some other rational device.

It’s much easier to persuade someone if they’re already convinced, if they already know the facts. But it’s impossible to change someone’s mind merely by convincing them of your point.

Author Terry Fallis explains the difference:

We are convinced by evidence or arguments made to the intellect. … We are persuaded by appeals made to the will, moral sense or emotions.

Jonathan Dunn adds:

…we are convinced to think something; persuaded to think & do something.

The implication of this for marketing is significant. I couldn’t care less if you were convinced that my widget is better than my competitors widgets if I haven’t also persuaded you to do something about it – buy it, support it, donate to it, tell your friends about it.

In her TED talk, Kathryn Schulz, author of Being Wrong, explains what happens when we unsuccessfully try to convince someone:

The first thing we usually do when someone disagrees with us is that we just assume they are ignorant. You know, they don’t have access to the same information we do and when we generously share that information with them, they are going to see the light and come on over to our team.

When that doesn’t work. When it turns out those people have all the same information and they still don’t agree with us we move onto a second assumption. They’re idiots. They have all the right pieces of the puzzle and they are too moronic to put them together.

And when that doesn’t work. When it turns out that people have all the same facts that we do and they are pretty smart we move onto a third assumption. They know the truth and they are deliberately distorting it for their own malevolent purposes.

So this is a catastrophe: our attachment to our own rightness. It prevents us from preventing mistakes when we need to and causes us to treat each other terribly.

If you’re always trying to convince people, you’re doing it wrong.

I hope the quality of the content in 2012 has persuaded you to leave a modest donation.