NY gay marriage bill: persuasion in action

by Shari Graydon

Who wouldn’t like to be a more persuasive communicator? In every aspect of our personal and professional lives – from seducing a beloved or winning a promotion to controlling the TV remote or getting your way at the Air Canada counter – our ability to marshal words into sentences that compel others to think as we do, or do as we’d like, makes us more effective.

New York State’s historic approval of same sex marriage on Friday reflects a triumph of persuasion by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The issue had been rejected by the legislature only two years ago and the Republican-dominated state senate didn’t seem likely to change its mind in response to the Democrat’s new bill.

But Cuomo reportedly combined two classic persuasive strategies in securing sufficient votes to pass the gay marriage initiative:

1. He put two values in opposition, reminding key conservative colleagues that the freedom for same sex partners to marry was an issue of personal freedom, and preventing it would be inconsistent with their libertarian views; and

2. He exercised emotional appeals, arguing in an impassioned speech that gay couples wanted and deserved to have the state recognize that “Their love is worth the same as your love. Their partnership is worth the same as your partnership.”

Both approaches are useful ways of improving the impact of both speeches and written commentary, and they’re echoed by the advice offered by Kevin Dutton, Cambridge University Psychologist and author of Split Second Persuasion – The Ancient Art and New Science of Changing Minds. He recommends keeping in mind the acronym SPICE:


S – Simplicity – Avoid complicating matters, make your case clear and focused

P – Perceived – Self interest – tell your audience what’s in it for them

I – Incongruity – Tell them something unexpected, challenge their preconceptions

C – Confidence – Assert your case with certainty

E – Empathy – Demonstrate your ability to see others’ perspectives

If your commentary isn’t persuasive, what’s the point in writing it in the first place?