How to persuade others using rhetorical questions?

Ken Strongman xc03 rhetorical
persuade using rhetorical questions

How to persuade others using rhetorical questions? Persuasion is the process of changing minds. Persuasion is an everyday part of human discourse. It is used by salesmen, parents, teachers, and many others – basically all of us. Persuasion in mediation is a two-way street. Long before you try to influence another to moderate their demands or consider the other side’s point of view, chances are good that they will have tried to convince you to their position.

It’s my experience in order to be an effective mediator, I must engage in various forms of persuasion. I do not engage in coercive or manipulative persuasion practices by which pressure brought to bear on reluctant participants to get a settlement. I do use a range of potential mediator interventions to help the parties resolve deeply held or competitively bargained differences. *

Rhetorical Questions

Rhetorical Questions are questions that strongly suggest the answer. I almost never use this form of persuasion in mediation. If I do it at all, it is towards the end of the day.

How they work

Rhetorical Questions are a form of direct persuasion. As a Mediator, I become an “agent of reality” in order to sow doubt and attitude change.


Not effective because it increases the perception of pressure resulting in the mediator loosing the trust of the parties. Thinking therefore stops. That is why I very seldom use rhetorical questions.

Why they don’t work

It increases the impression of pressure from the questioner. Questions are seen as less knowledgeable than previously in the mediation. The parties question the mediator’s knowledge base. It makes me appear that I don’t know what is going on, which is not true. It does reduce message acceptance. Furthermore, it interferes with message elaboration and self-persuasion.

*Stark, James H. and Frenkel, Douglas N., Changing Minds: The Work of Mediators and Empirical Studies of Persuasion (2013). Ohio State Journal on Dispute Resolution, Vol. 28, No. 2, Pg. 263, 2013; U of Penn Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 11-07

**Why the picture of Cross Country runners?  It takes a lot of pursuasion to get them to the finish line. 

Ken Strongman, Mediator About the Author: Ken Strongman ( has years of experience and a growing national reputation as a mediator and arbitrator.  He has successfully resolved more than a thousand disputes in the fields of construction defects, real estate, intellectual property, and employment.  He is also a Mediator and Arbitrator for FINRA.

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