Benjamin Franklin offered this nuggest of advice on persuasion. But can we really change someone else's mind?
Before we even contemplate the question, we need to consider is it even valid in the first place?
Just because someone holds a different opinion or set of beliefs to ourselves, does that really matter? Quite often we spend enormous amounts of time and energy trying to get people to come to our own way of thinking, just so we have the satisfaction of feeling right.
If after considering the question, we come to the view that, yes it does matter and we need to have a point of agreement, then we need to consider how to do this, without undermining the person concerned, or losing ourself in the activity of arguing a case.
Deepak Chopra in a recent article offers some wise advice that includes:
Let’s consider each of the five points a bit further.
1. Be sincere and truthful. Don't be manipulative.
You can't sell other people on something you don't actually believe in.The upshot is that you shouldn't try to be a master manipulator. It only works on weak-willed people, and in the end they are fickle allies. Rely on your listener's natural ability to detect sincerity.
2. Appeal to what someone else already believes. Don't impose your own belief system.
People identify with their beliefs. With that knowledge at hand, you can align yourself with their beliefs. Without that knowledge, you are throwing darts at a brick wall. If you try instead to impose your own beliefs, the other person will feel that you are making him wrong, and immediate shutdown follows.
3. Be aware of the other person's blind spots. Don't assume they are open-minded.
A blind spot is a fixed opinion that is so strong, the person shuts out any input to the contrary. It's the supreme example of rigid thinking. If you are self-aware, you know that you have your own blind spots - there are certain things you simply can't stand or that bring out your most stubborn reactions. Almost no one has an open mind, yes, even you; but it's a fact of practical psychology that must be considered. Your task is to avoid sensitive topics and to appeal to the part of your listener that wants to agree with you.
4. In general, persuade through reason, not emotion. Don't assume that emotions aren't in play, however.
One of the most confusing aspects of persuasion has to do with being reasonable. Everyone thinks they are, and decision-making is supposed to be rational. Yet psychological research has shown time and again that emotions cannot be separated from the choices we make. To be persuasive, you must argue rationally while always monitoring the emotional atmosphere. (It's worth noting too that competitive personalities regard a show of emotion as a sign of weakness - with them, you must muster all the rational reasons you can.)
5. Make the other person feel right. Don't make them feel wrong.
We all feel wrong when we are judged against. We feel right when we are accepted, understood, appreciated, and approved of. If you make someone else feel accepted, you have established a genuine bond, at which point they will lower their defenses.
So if you have an important area that you need to get to a big 'yes' from a person with an opposing view, think about how you would use these skills to positions yourself better for the conversation. Remember to put your own ego aside, become the passive listener and see how easy it can be to turn around the most staunch of opponents, always remembering to do it with a smile.
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