A 2020 study confirms an axiom. However, there is an interesting little twist for the word nerds in the room…

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Many humans are masters of persuasion (whether or not they know it).

Which is why I was rather unsurprised by the conclusion to a study I just read.

The 2020 study on leadership, credibility and persuasion, published in the International Review of Pragmatics, reviewed the persuasion strategies used in political communication, academic discourse and business management.

It concluded that patterns of persuasion, credibility-building and leadership found in politics, management and academics are “(surprisingly) similar.”

Surprising… really?


The study really just points to one thing:

Human beings will consistently behave like, well… humans. We respond to AND persuade similarly. No matter where or when these strategies appear in our life.

And I’d argue that a big part of being human is learning to influence other humans to say “yes” so you can get what you want.

For example, you might use persuasion techniques to:

  • Get your partner to order pizza from the new pizzeria around the corner, instead of the dumplings and bubble tea they’ve been craving.
  • Convince your boss to free up a little L&D budget so you can enroll in Copy School.
  • Coax your cat to please, PLEASE – for the love of all that’s good! – quit being a daredevil and get down from there!

(Good luck if you find yourself in that last scenario. Cats are immune to our persuasion techniques because… they’re not human!)

And just think of the four words nearly every child has uttered at least once in their life:

“[Dad / Mom] said I could.”

Bingo. Little Abigail is stretching her persuasion skills with the help of some social proof.

From work to family life to everything in between… 

Persuasion is part of our modus operandi – both when we use influence strategies AND when we respond to influence strategies.

So it’s unsurprising that the persuasion strategies used in, say, politics, are also used for business management. This similarity is just an example of humans being human.

In fact, without stating it, the study actually aligns with Cialdini’s principles of influence. Like social proof, authority and the newest principle – unity.

(For those that haven’t heard about unity as a principle of influence, it was added as the seventh principle back in 2016. This principle focuses on shared identities that individuals identify with, including nationality, political party and religious affiliations.)

Here’s what I did find (a little) surprising:

What was interesting about this study isn’t that we use universal persuasion strategies to get what we want… but that there are actual, super-specific language patterns that give away the persuasive strategy being used. 


For example, the study concludes that when a speaker is using social proof, you’ll see language fall into four categories:

  1. Perception. Perception-based proof leans hard on sensory phrases like “it appears that…” and “visibly.” So the language is quite literally evoking the idea that the claim is visible and, therefore, must be true. Seeing is believing, right?
  2. General knowledge. This type of proof is marked by phrases like “it’s a widely held opinion that…” and “everybody knows that… .” In copywriting, these types of phrases should be used carefully. They’re likely to trip your reader’s bullsh*t detector if you’re writing for a more sophisticated market.  
  3. Proof. Research. Results. Statistics. And, similar to the perception category, we’re also talking about words that imply actual visibility, like “show”, “indicate” and “reveal.” 
  4. Obviousness. Last but not least, this language implies common knowledge and ‘facts of life’ – words like “obviously” and “clearly.” 

Here’s another example:

When a speaker uses the influencing principle of authority, you’ll see the idea expressed so that the authority is the subject of the sentence and the claim is phrased with a ‘saying’ verb, like “stated”, “pronounced”, “announced” and “reported.” So it’s not just that we’re citing an authority, but using the authority figure’s actual voice in our argument for our own gain.

So, what does all this really mean for you… and me… and anyone else who writes copy?

Well, for starters, consider using these words and phrases when you’re trying to get what you want:

  • It appears that
  • Visibly 
  • Demonstrably
  • It’s a widely held opinion that
  • It’s a truth universally acknowledged that (for the Jane Austen fans in your circle)
  • Everybody knows that 
  • Show
  • Indicate
  • Reveal
  • Obviously
  • Clearly

You can use these as implicit signals in your writing to amplify influencing forces and further enhance your copy’s persuasive powers.

The other takeaway is a simple reminder:

Your job is to write for other – you guessed it! – humans.

Your reader is an actual living, breathing, feeling human being.

(Yes, even if you’re writing for B2B.)

So you can and should take comfort in the fact that human beings respond to persuasive strategies, no matter where or when they’re being human.