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