Persuasion is hard, especially when people have different perspectives, worldview, mindsets and values in life. Our brains are faster at processing opinions we agree with than those we disagree with.
“A little over a decade ago Leonid Rozenblit and Frank Keil from Yale University suggested that in many instances people believe they understand how something works when in fact their understanding is superficial at best. They called this phenomenon “the illusion of explanatory depth”, writes Tom Stafford of the BBC.
Even though you’ve done your homework, and your arguments are well researched and founded, don’t expect people to agree with you all the time. Everyone who crosses your path may have a different view about topics you deeply care about.
People rarely change their minds, which makes persuasion even harder but not impossible. The economist J.K. Galbraith once wrote, “Faced with a choice between changing one’s mind and proving there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy with the proof.”
We don’t always believe things because they are correct. Sometimes we believe things because they make us look good to the people we care about.
In some situations, fear of change is the ultimate nemesis of persuasion, says Rob Jolles, author of How to Change Minds: The Art of Influence Without Manipulation. Jolles explains, “If it’s a small problem in another person’s eyes, fear of change will shoot down any solution. If it’s a big problem, you have to help others move past their fear of change.”
As difficult as persuasion is in life and at work, at some point, you will have the difficult task of convincing a colleague at work, or a close relation to agree with you. In spite of differing points of view, you can still find common ground with the other person.
Show them how they’re right
If you start any conversation by telling someone they’re wrong, you will only make the other person defensive, causing them to entrench themselves further in their beliefs.
Instead, listen carefully, pay attention, be curious about their ideas, and tell them all the ways they’re right, before guiding them to realise they’re wrong on their own. You have to help them move past their own perspectives, beliefs, and biases. Show them what they may not be aware of.
This approach to persuasion goes back to the 17th century philosopher Blaise Pascal who found that the best way to help people change their own minds is to first show them how they are right.
In Pensées, Pascal writes, “When we wish to correct with advantage and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false. He is satisfied with that, for he sees that he was not mistaken and that he only failed to see all sides… People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.”
When you tell someone they are wrong, they will get offended, because it feels like a personal attack on their intellect. Once you do that, your chance of connecting with them, or convincing them from a different perspective goes out the window.
Arthur Markman, psychology professor at The University of Texas at Austin, says this approach works well because you’re giving someone the opportunity to lower their guard and permission to change their mind without fear of it making them look bad.
In your effort to persuade anyone, don’t aim to just win, provide them with information that will lead them to their own enlightenment. Convincing someone to change their mind is really the process of convincing them to change their entrenched beliefs. It takes more than your own beliefs.
Nobody wants their worldview torn apart. People have strong attachments to their opinions. To change someone’s mind, you also need to address their emotional attachment to what they believe — acknowledge their right arguments to increase the chances of convincing them.
Aim to connect — Be kind first, be right later
Japanese writer Haruki Murakami once wrote, “Always remember that to argue, and win, is to break down the reality of the person you are arguing against. It is painful to lose your reality, so be kind, even if you are right.”
Keep an open mind, and meet them halfway, before you make your case. Don’t make them feel worse about their current beliefs.
In a conversation, you can easily forget that the goal to connect with the other person, and sometimes collaborate with them. Focusing on just winning can backfire — connect first.
Art Markman, PhD, a professor of Psychology explains, “Develop counterarguments to their most significant sources of support. Then expose them to more pieces of information that are consistent with the new belief. It’s also important to provide all of this information from multiple sources. After all, the easiest way for people to maintain their current beliefs is to decide that any contrary information is unreliable,”
In a difficult conversation, explain precisely why you think you are right. Don’t lead with our own perspective and what the other person needs to do to change.
Take a step back and truly try to understand the other person’s perspective, validate his or her point of view — and then work with them to arrive at your desired outcome or solution.
“If you want people to adopt your beliefs, you need to act more like a scout and less like a soldier. At the centre of this approach is a question Tiago Forte poses beautifully, “Are you willing to not win in order to keep the conversation going?”, writes James Clear.
People are more likely to change their mind if they reach the conclusion for themselves, not because you told them. Work with people to change their minds.
People can easily feel your stubbornness if you are defensive about your beliefs. A better way involves more listening, and less trying to get the other person into submission.
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