A Shortcut to Successful Influence: The ACE Method
Kathleen Kelley Reardon is Professor Emerita of Management at University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.
She earned her Ph.D. summa cum laude and with distinction at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst after receiving her BA degree with honors from University of Connecticut at Storrs. Kathleen is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi and Mortar Board.
Her primary areas of scholarly interest have been leadership communication, persuasion, politics in the workplace, negotiation and interpersonal communication. Public Opinion Quarterly described her first book, Persuasion in Practice, as a landmark contribution to the field.
Kathleen has taught negotiation, leadership and politics in the MBA, Executive MBA, and International MBA. For 15 years, she served on the USC Preventive Medicine faculty, developing interventions aimed at changing health habits among high-risk populations. She also served as associate director with Warren Bennis of the USC Leadership Institute.
She has authored 10 books and numerous articles, including three for The Harvard Business Review. Her 2001 book The Secret Handshake: Mastering the Politics of the Business Inner Circle (Currency, Doubleday) became an Amazon.com nonfiction and business best seller. It was followed by The Skilled Negotiator (Jossey-Bass, 2004), It’s All Politics: Winning in a World Where Hard Work and Talent Aren’t Enough (Currency, Doubleday, 2005), Childhood Denied: Ending the Nightmare of Child Abuse and Neglect (Sage, 2008), and Comebacks at Work: Using Conversation to Master Confrontation (Harper Business, 2010).
Her first novel, Shadow Campus, is an inside look at the politics of academia, a mystery-thriller and a love story. Forbes described it as a “masterful debut.” The sequel is underway for publication in 2015.
Kathleen was awarded the 2013 Humanitarian Award by the University of Connecticut Alumni Association based on her contributions to underserved groups, especially in originating and working to develop college prep academies for foster teens (www.firststar.org).
Kathleen is a signature blogger at Huffington Post (since 2005) and also blogs at her website (www.kathleenkelleyreardon.com).
Persuasion research indicates that verbal and rational (as opposed to emotional) human influence appeals focus heavily on appropriateness, consistency and effectiveness of proposed ideas and actions.
Appropriateness appeals, based on social norms, address whether a way of thinking, speaking or acting is right or wrong in a particular group, organization or culture (e.g., “That’s not how things are done here” or “Everyone does this. You should too”).
Consistency appeals, derived from desire for balance or consistency across behaviors, address whether a way of thinking, speaking or acting fits with prior ones or one’s self-perception (e.g., “You’ve never done that before” or “This is so much like you”).
Effectiveness appeals, useful because human action is often goal-driven, address whether a way of thinking, speaking or acting is likely to work given the goals at hand (e.g., “That will never get you what you want” or “You’ll certainly have my attention”).
This division of influence appeals into three categories is known as the ACE Method of persuasion. It’s a useful shortcut for developing positions that are likely to resonate with the person or persons you wish to influence. It does not account for all forms of persuasive activity. Attractiveness, source credibility, humor, charisma and many other factors enter into both appeals and outcomes of persuasion. Even attractiveness of a persuasion source, though, can be seen as influential because the person being persuaded identifies with the attractive person (consistency) or would like to please him or her (effectiveness).
Skill in assessing what matters most among the three ACE Method persuasion categories, at a particular point in time for a person or persons, is critical in making good use of it. Sometimes this requires observing others over time or, when that’s not possible, asking questions that assess priorities.
Research and much anecdotal evidence have shown that young people, for example, are often influenced by the perceptions of their peers. While they may not admit that their actions are guided by such considerations, often what they consider important is not so much being effective (e.g., doing homework before going out), but rather appropriate (e.g., spending more time with friends).
Certainly, many young people also consider what is effective or consistent when deciding a course of action. The challenge in such cases is to determine which form of effectiveness or consistency matters most. A young person may decide delaying homework is more effective in terms of making and keeping friends.
Marketers often use appropriateness, consistency and effectiveness considerations in developing advertisements. Auto ads focus on what others would think of us were we to purchase a particular model, consistency with self-image or desired self-image, and/or effectiveness of purchase, perhaps in terms of handling, gas mileage, or cost.
The ACE Method is useful in narrowing down likely interests before formulating an appeal even in everyday conversation.
Here is a simple example that demonstrates how a shift in appeal types after assessing priorities can work in conversation:
Alan: Let’s see that new movie tonight.
Mark: Can’t do it tonight.
Alan: You never miss a chance to see a thriller. (Consistency Appeal)
Mark: I know, but tomorrow the final report is due at work.
Alan: You’ve been at that all day. If you see the movie and clear your brain, the report will turn out much better. (Effectiveness Appeal)
Mark: You may have a point.
In this conversation, Alan didn't use an appropriateness appeal (e.g., “Everyone will be there tonight”). He may have determined that Mark is not influenced by such appeals, especially when facing a work deadline.
The next time you’re formulating a persuasive message, consider whether appropriateness, consistency or effectiveness is likely to be most useful. It just might cut down on a lot of guesswork.
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