Berlusconi and the art of persuasion: what are his secrets? 360b Shutterstock

Berlusconi and the art of persuasion: what are his secrets?

In a couple of days, Italy will vote and there is a real chance that Berlusconi might win again. What are the secrets behind his unbelievable comeback?

“Character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion”, Aristotle once said. There is no doubt that Silvio Berlusconi is an enigmatic and intriguing character. One year ago, after his disastrous and incompetent economical policy had almost ruined Italy, he had to resign and his “political death” was almost certain. This week, Italy will vote and there is a real chance that he might win again. At this point the question is: what are the secrets behind his unbelievable comeback?

Berlusconi relies on the persuasion techniques of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP).

NLP has been created in the seventies by Richard Bandler and John Grinder on the basis of on the work of Gregory Bateson, Virginia Satir and Noam Chomsky. NLP persuasion techniques are widely used by business men and professionals in order to increase their sales power. Berlusconi immediately recognized the potential of NLP, not only for his financial holding company (Fininvest), but also for politics, smartly translating the increase of sales power into increase of “consensus” power.

In particular, during interviews on TV, but also in public speeches, Berlusconi uses the NLP matching technique in which he “mirrors” the other person’s movements, vocal qualities, beliefs and values. This causes the “defenses” of the others to collapse, inducing a general feeling of agreement.

Another NLP technique widely used by Berlusconi, in order to get internal consensus and unconditional loyalty from his entourage, is reciprocity. Following the teaching by Dr. Robert Cialdini: “I am obligated to give back to you the form of behavior that you first gave to me. If you remember my birthday with a gift, I shall remember yours also with a gift. If you do me a favor, I owe you a favor and people say yes to those they owe”. It is not by chance that Berlusconi is very famous for being a very generous man.

Another favorite NLP technique adopted by Berlusconi is storytelling. Berlusconi often talks about his youth in order to appear “one of the folk” and to establish an apparently sincere and direct contact with the Italian people. He also loves the use of metaphors to simplify and mystify reality. In his language, also called “berlusconism”, everything that is against him is “communist”. When a couple of years ago the newspaper “The Economist” wrote several critical articles against him, Berlusconi renamed it “The Ecommunist”.

Robert Louis Stevenson once stated that: “Everyone lives by selling something”. Berlusconi lives by selling an iconic, god-like image of himself. Today, half of the Italians blindly believe that he will have the power to magically save Italy, converting debts into profits: “Twenty years ago Berlusconi saved the soccer team A.C. Milan from the crisis, why cannot he save Italy as well?”.

1 Comment


An interesting article definitely. Though I do wonder if Berlusconi is actually using NLP - mostly because NLP seems to have barely any evidence for its efficacy beyond anecdotal claims. Systematic research into NLP has so far proven highly inconclusive, and various researchers have suggested that NLP is little more than a cargo cult. An example is linked below:

So though I believe that the techniques described in this article might work (though it is doubtful that these are the exclusibe reasons for his popularity - having most of the media eating from the palm of your hand is no doubt another contributing factor), I highly doubt that these techniques should be phrased in the pseudoscientific niche of NLP.