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The ability to overcome resistance is the key to being persuasive, because persuasion is rarely necessary unless the audience says it doesn’t like your idea, doesn’t believe your message, or doesn’t want to do comply with your request.

So if resistance is the one obstacle that stands in the way of your achieving your goal, how do you counter it? One key way is to recast your message so that you change the audience’s frame of reference. Here are two examples:

A) The University of Kansas Psychology Department requires psych majors to participate in research experiments. For years, students were told to participate in four hours of research per week, and if they missed any appointment, they were penalized and had to complete five hours. They resented that.

So the department reframed the proposal and started telling students they had to complete five hours of research, but if they completed four without any missed appointments, they were given the fifth hour as a bonus. The total time required was the same, but by manipulating the message elements, the department made the requirement look more acceptable (Professor and author Eric Knowles).

B) Psychologist Irwin Levin asked audiences to consider buying ground beef that he alternately described as “75 percent lean” or “25 percent fat.” It was the same meat but labeled differently. Levin had reframed his message by changing the attributes of the meat. More people had a positive assessment of the meat when it was presented in terms of percent-lean rather than percent-fat (the Journal of Consumer Research), because “75 percent lean” looks better.

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Ken O’Quinn is a professional writing coach and former Associated Press writer who conducts corporate workshops on business writing, persuasive writing, and corporate communications writing. He is the author of Perfect Phrases for Business Letters (McGraw-Hill), which is available here at Amazon.com.

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