Persuasion both forms human nature and reveals human nature. To be human is to persuade and be persuaded. We therefore carry persuasion potential into every event where two people meet.
Is this really true?
Let’s test this assertion with an excellent example from this post at Afghan Lessons Learned.
ALL is written by, in the words of its authors, ” . . . three Senior NCO’s and one Major, and we have served in both line units and as embedded advisors in Afghanistan. We were filled full of bullshit by those who trained us, and so we are trying to help tell it like it really is.”
The example we consider today is entitled, “Chapter 3: Culture (Lesson 3A: Chai and the Pashtunwali).
Tea, or chai, forms an important social custom in Afghanistan. It is also a means for persuasion. Some people see that. Others don’t.
“A leadership recently in Afghanistan was telling its Soldiers not to drink chai. Don’t listen to stuff like that; it will have you insulting people left and right.
One of the key tenets of the Pushtunwali, the code of conduct of the Pashtuns, is hospitality. Hospitality is not just a Pashtun value, though. It is an Afghan value.
We have both had chai served to us by Taliban, as well. A Talib will not kill you while offering you hospitality. It just isn’t done.”
These quotes illustrate potential for persuasion plays based on norms, the descriptive (what everyone does) or prescriptive (what everyone should do) rules that govern social action. Norms often function as Cues, persuasion plays that guide preference and action, but require little or no thinking on the part of the receiver. Here’s a simple statement of the norm Cue: “If Others Are Doing It, You Should, Too.”
There are many persuasion Cues and they often appear in combinations. Consider these quotes.
“More often, the offer of chai was not an obligatory gesture but a genuine expression of friendship and a desire to have relaxed conversation with another. Either way, refusal of an invitation is a delicate thing. While you may be excused for having to fulfill other obligations, genuine regret and thanks for the offer are in order.”
Here we see the operation of two other plays, Reciprocity and Liking. Reciprocity (When The Source Gives You Something, You Must Give Back) and Liking (When You Like The Source, Do What They Request) can both function in the chai norm. Sometimes, the chai offer is the first move by the source doing the Reciprocity play and you should respond with acceptance. More often, though, chai allows Liking to function in that “genuine expression of friendship” and the fun of a “relaxed conversation with another.”
In other case, we should note the persuasion pressure applied by the source on the receiver. When you get hit with the chai offer, the reciprocation play usually works to make the receiver give more than the source. And, of course, if Liking enters the picture through “genuine friendship” or merely “relaxing conversation,” there is again more persuasion pressure on the receiver. Not only is chai part of a cultural value, it is also a persuasion play.
Could or do Americans offer chai to Afghans? In other words, do or can Americans replicate the chai norm and rather than always react to the Afghan offer, initiate the norm (adding other Cues like Reciprocity or Liking or whatever) and make the Afghan react? If anyone has any direct knowledge of this, I’d like to hear about it. My guess is that if you do it right, you’ve made a very powerful persuasion move that generates a lot of potential persuasion pressure on Afghans.
Now, let’s complicate things. Consider the persuasion pressure of Cues in this situation.
“This was my first experience going down the a particularly miserably narrow alley-like road between the main north-south road in the valley and literally into the riverbed. We parked in the riverbed and the team from the 82nd stayed there while I and my terp accompanied the ANP alone while we walked a couple of miles to the target houses.
We reached the first target house and it was the home of the village Malek, a senior elder position in the village. We asked him about the visitors he had had that day and the ANP searched his house.
They found sixty rounds of 7.62×39 ammunition. AK ammo. In AK magazines. Not good. We detained him and took him and the ammo with us. We then moved a mile or so to the next house and after a search and protestations of innocence from the homeowner, we proceeded back to the district center. Upon my arrival the Wuliswahl, or Sub-governor, of Tag Ab, a man since replaced and who we believed was no doubt “dirty,” requested the pleasure of my company. By name.
I entered his sitting room, carpeted with rugs and with pillows arranged around the periphery, to discover three other gentlemen seated whom I had never seen before. One vaguely resembled the man that I had only recently detained. The Wuliswahl ordered chai and bade me sit.
It turned out that two of the men were supposedly Maleks from neighboring villages and the third was the detained Malek’s brother. The whole point of this chai was to dissuade me from taking the Taliban-friendly, ammunition-hiding Malek in to the temporary detainee-handling facility we had established at the north end of the Tag Ab Valley.
We drank chai and they expressed themselves thoroughly; alternately asking for and demanding the release of the Malek, vouching for the detainee’s character, and asking that we let him go in their custody so that they could bring him in the morning. This part went on for quite some time.”
Look at all the persuasion pressure on the American here. He’s caught in the chai norm and already feeling the demand of reciprocity – “Hey, we’re being friendly and polite with chai and you should reciprocate by releasing our brother.” The American also faces an Authority Cue with the Wuliswahl of the district. The Authority Cue is obvious: “When An Authority Makes A Request, You Should Comply.” The interaction probably followed the sequence of serving, small talk, and friendly conversation leading perhaps to some Liking Cue.
Now, all of these Cues are irrelevant to the issue at hand. An Afghan had sixty rounds of AK ammunition. That’s clearly the mark of the Taliban and is thus a straightforward violation. In persuasion terms, this is a strong Argument for Central Route persuasion. The Afghans are resisting, not on the merits of the case, but with a heavy dose of persuasion Cues.
Of course, this is a difficult and dangerous situation. We’re in a war zone. But realize how people are handling this problem short of violence. They’re talking. That’s persuasion. The Afghans are working on the Peripheral Route because that favors them. Their brother is in trouble based on the Arguments and just like every big brother in trouble with the parents for wailing on the little brother, when you’re losing on the Arguments, go to Cues. Maybe the Afghans can use the persuasive power of social Cues – the Norms, Reciprocity, Liking, Authority – to achieve their goals.
Now, notice how the American handles this.
“I countered their points with discussion of the finding of prohibited ammunition, his need to set an example, and our belief that he had hosted Taliban for chai in his home. They refuted those claims, his brother offering to let me burn his house with his family in it if his brother had Taliban in his home; a dramatic portion of the dance.
They spoke of his honor, his honor in the eyes of his village, and of their honor-bound duty to seek his release.
Finally, I told them that I understood that it was their duty to come and seek his release, and that they had done their part to uphold their honor.
I told them that I am an askar, a soldier, and that my honor depends on me following my orders. They agreed; that is what askare are supposed to do. I asked them civilly, as I sipped the opposite side of my chai cup, if they were asking me to dishonor myself. The four men assured me vociferously that none of them would ever ask me to dishonor myself.
I thanked them, as I rose to leave, for understanding that my orders were to bring the man in, and I thanked them for not asking me to violate my orders and dishonor myself. I excused myself, bowing slightly with my hand over my heart in the Afghan way, and shook each of their hands mumbling, “Tashakur, khud hafez.”
First, have no doubt about the American’s physical courage, but also see his intuitive persuasion analysis in a high risk situation. He is a very skilled persuader. Here’s why.
Notice how he switched everyone off the Peripheral Route and all those irrelevant, but powerful Cues onto the Central Route. He focused the talk on Arguments. He noted the irrefutable evidence of the ammo, the importance of enforcement examples, and the provocative potential of Taliban at chai. Then he hit them with a crushing strong Argument – honor. Honor applies equally well to both the Afghans and to him. He pointed out, very cleverly, that the Afghans would be dishonored if they did not speak up for their brother and that he would be dishonored if he let the detainee go. Note that the way the American set up this Argument, both sides were proven to be honorable and could not be criticized for their actions. Thus, the Afghans could righteously claim that they had defended the honor of themselves and their community by demanding the release of their brother and they could say that the American soldier was righteous in his honor for taking the Afghan who had clearly broken the rules.
I don’t want to push too hard, but this action sounds like something out of the Iliad and Odysseus, the Greek king. Odysseus was noted as both a strong warrior and a cunning leader. He could win with weapons or with words. For example, when the Greeks first arrived at Troy everyone hesitated in their ships because of an oracle claim that the first man to jump ashore would die. Odysseus threw his shield ashore, then leapt upon it. Thus, he was the first man off the ship, but in a way that clearly trumped the oracle. The second Greek onshore simply jumped on shore, feet first, and later became the first Greek to die, just like the oracle asserted.
Now, let’s veer into new persuasion territory.
“My first chai was something that I stumbled into quite by accident. In April of 2007, the ANA were practicing for the annual parade in Kabul. It is a big deal, involving a lot of practice. We went to visit them at the area of Kabul where they were staying during this. The team chief and several officers and the Sergeant Major were all escorted about on a tour of the Afghan temporary camp that had been set up, looking at tanks and armored personnel carriers and the like as they wandered about.
The Maniac and I were left watching the humvees while the others were off being feted.
Americans always draw a crowd, and some of the soldiers from the tents nearby began to drift over and try to communicate with us. We noticed that they had M-16′s. Their captain, who spoke limited English, asked us to show them how to disassemble and reassemble the rifle.
The rifles had been issued to them for the parade. The Afghan soldiers had no idea if they were going to actually work with these weapons.
I showed the captain how to do it, the soldiers gathered around the front of the vehicle watching intently. The captain would not try it in front of his men, however. Maniac started working with individual soldiers, showing them the same thing and encouraging them to try it themselves.”
Modeling Theory (Monkey See, Monkey Do) is a powerful persuasion play. You change people in a simple three step: 1. observe a model, 2. imitate the model, and 3. get a consequence. Here Maniac is the model who demonstrates while the Afghans observe. The Afghans then imitate the behavior of the model and, as anyone who’s every assembled a gun knows, you do get a consequence from imitation – the gun goes snap or else you’re standing there holding an inert weapon and this springy-looking thingy in your hand.
The Afghan captain is also no persuasion idiot. He doesn’t know how to service the weapon and he’s not going to demonstrate his incompetence in front of his men. Thus, he asks/orders (the distinction is lost in translation) the Americans to demonstrate while he supervises. He clearly understands another powerful persuasion Cue, Authority. He cannot look unskilled and be an Authority.
Did Maniac (or any other American) take this Captain aside and train him up on servicing the M-16, also showing some tricks not offerred to the squad of soldiers? Think about the persuasion implications of that move.
This is a long post with many demonstrations.
1. Persuasion forms and reveals human nature. Where we go, persuasion applies.
2. See the operation of Cues and Arguments. Notice how they are used and consider how they can be extended. Chai creates a Norm and If Other People Are Doing It, You Should, Too. With chai we can add Reciprocity (taking more than we give, however), Liking, and Authority. See how people use Cues when the Arguments don’t favor them. Particularly realize how Arguments based in local terms are incredibly powerful.
3. See how a simple demonstration of Modeling Theory can be used for training, but also how it reveals the operation of other Cues (the captain’s Authority).
4. Look at all the potential persuasion extensions in just this one long post. Can Americans offer chai and use it to pursue their persuasion goals? How could spontaneous training sessions be used for lurking persuasion purposes? Think about training all Americans in the “honor” Argument. Think how flexible and useful this could be. And, aren’t there other examples like this that other Americans have employed in a similar fashion? What are other Afghan values that translate into strong Arguments Americans can use in other situations?
Persuasion, whether anyone realizes it or calls it by that name, is already in the field. Because it is a part of human nature, we carry it everywhere we go.
Now, what if we get systematic with it? What if we collect and share persuasion lessons learned? What if we train on it?
Why leave persuasion skill as something we read about in ancient Greek tales?