Persuading People Who Don’t Want to Be Persuaded

Persuading anyone is hard. Persuading people who have already made up their minds is even harder.


i-cb046691ac9125244932da86ddbe8921-designated hitter brian-dozier pixabay.jpg

days everyone seems to have made up their minds about everything from gun control to public education to refugees to the designated hitter. With almost all persuasion directed to resistant audiences, what’s a person to do? In Think Like a Freak, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, authors of the bestselling Freakonomics books, offer a chapter on this topic. Here are their suggestions.

Understand how hard such persuasion is. Realize that the people who are most dogmatic–on both sides of an issue!–are generally those who are best educated. Why? Such people tend to have greater confidence in what they know. Also because we often link our opinions to a group we closely identify with, fact and logic often won’t penetrate our emotion-shaped ideology.

Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. What makes sense to you may not connect at all with others. Consider what motivates them and why they might believe what they do.


i-7b6194840dd2ffcb4dd0f68ee34ab7d9-think like a freak.jpg

pretend your argument is perfect. Every viewpoint has flaws. Every plan will have unintended consequences. “If you make an argument that promises all benefits and no costs, your opponent will never buy it–nor should he. Panaceas are almost nonexistent. If you paper over the shortcomings of your plan, that only gives your opponent reason to doubt the rest of it.”

Admit where your opponent is right.
Opposing arguments almost always have some value. Show you are being objective and reasonable by admitting it. Those who feel their side is being ignored will be less likely to take you seriously.

No name calling. Respect those you disagree with. Don’t demonize them.

Tell stories. Stories can bypass our rational objections by appealing directly to the heart. And they are easier to remember than a list or logical argument. People usually can’t name the Ten Commandments. They are much more likely to remember the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, David and Bathsheba, which make the same points.

If you are skeptical of how effective these could be in this age of extremist rhetoric, I understand. I know these approaches won’t convince everyone. But I trust your good will, and I found the chapter helpful. Maybe you will too.

Photo Credit: Pixabay, Brian Dozier

Author: Andy Le Peau

I've been an editor and writer for over forty years. I am passionate about ideas and how we can express them clearly, beautifully, and persuasively. I love reading good books, talking about them, and recommending them. I thoroughly enjoy my family who help me continue on the path of a lifelong learner.

4 thoughts on “Persuading People Who Don’t Want to Be Persuaded”

  1. Andy, I think your last point is your most valuable. In our fast living culture stories urge us to take time and live a small window with another person. That time with another is our best chance to both change and enrich our lives.

  2. Don, you may be right. Stories are much more fully human than logic or propositions. Jesus, of course, was a master at this type of persuasion. Yet I often find it hard to see things from someone else’s perspective and acknowledge the value of what they have to say.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  3. Hi Andy,
    Thank you for sharing your post. The thought came to me to search for public speaking with Intervarsity in my search for public speaking resources. Your article came up and I appreciate your summary of the book and to read your thoughts briefly. The book seems interesting. If you have other resources in video or printed format (short) then be free to let me know. I am seeking to share training resources with colleagues on public speaking in a business meeting, persuading of the veracity and worth of an idea or message.

    I think public speaking involves great responsibility, and understanding your listener along with your own position and that of your listener(s). May we ask for and receive the promised wisdom we need…from above for the many applications in discourse and speaking rightly and well.
    Thanks again for posting.

  4. HI Chris, Since Levitt and Dunbar offer just one chapter on persuasion, it does make a good and brief resource.

    Also on the brief side, I have two chapters on persuasion in my upcoming book, Write Better, to be released this October with IVP. (See One chapter is “The Character of Persuasion” (on how and why to persuade ethically) and the other is “The Craft of Persuasion” (which is more practical). While the book is on writing, the advice is mostly applicable to writing and speaking, with some speaking examples included.

    Of course the people at TED Talks have lots of great videos and advice you probably already know about at

    Hope that helps,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *