Vocabularies of social influence: Managing the moral accountability of influencing another

Bogdana Huma*, Elizabeth Stokoe, Rein Ove Sikveland

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


While there are many definitions and conceptual accounts of ‘persuasion’ and other forms of social influence, social scientists lack empirical insight into how and when people actually use terms like ‘persuade’, ‘convince’, ‘change somebody's mind’ – what we call the vocabularies of social influence – in actual social interaction. We collected instances of the spontaneous use of these and other social influence terms (such as ‘schmoozing’ and ‘hoodwinking’) in face-to-face and telephone conversations across multiple domestic and institutional settings. The recorded data were transcribed and analysed using discursive psychology and conversation analysis with a focus on the actions accomplished in and through the use of social influence terms. We found that when speakers use 'persuading' – but not 'convincing' or 'changing somebody’s mind' – it is in the service of orienting to the moral accountability of influencing others. The specificity with which social actors deploy these terms demonstrates the continued importance of developing our understandings of the meaning of words – especially psychological ones – via their vernacular use by ordinary people in the first instance, rather than have psychologists reify, operationalize, and build an architecture for social psychology without paying attention to what people actually do with the ‘psychological thesaurus’.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)319-339
JournalBritish Journal of Social Psychology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • compliance-seeking
  • conversation analysis
  • conviction
  • discursive psychology
  • persuasion
  • psychological thesaurus
  • resistance
  • social influence


Dive into the research topics of 'Vocabularies of social influence: Managing the moral accountability of influencing another'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this