By: Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm -
Never heard of “Alpha” and “Omega” strategies for persuasion? Until recently, neither had I. But after reading the research, it has changed my way of looking at persuasion. The terms are based on something called the "approach-avoidance" model (Knowles & Linn, 2004), suggesting that to an audience, every position you might advocate has attributes that attract ("approach"), and attributes that repel ("avoidance"). Persuasion is accomplished, naturally enough, by making the approach stronger than the avoidance. Now, you might think, "that is obvious -- of course audiences see a pro and a con," but the real takeaway for advocates is the reminder that you need to speak to both sides of the equation. Intuitively, we might expect that we make a persuasive case in court by assembling all of the evidence, arguments, and other appeals that show why we are right and they are wrong. But that all speaks to the benefits of our position -- the approach forces. Those are the "Alpha" strategies that give a judge or jury an incentive (greater credibility or merit) for siding with us. But what about the avoidance forces, the forces that cause an audience to resist our message? If we aren't also using the "Omega" strategies to decrease that resistance, then we may just be building a convincing case that our audience rejects nonetheless for their own reasons.
In this post, I'll be referring back to the opening statements in the second corruption trial of former Illinois Governor, Rod Blagojevich, to illustrate the difference between Alpha and Omega strategies, and to underscore the message that complete persuasion needs to employ both.