A Shortcut to Successful Influence: The ACE Method
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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