Political divisions in America have me thinking about how to speak with people with whom I disagree. This is personal. I have an aunt with whom I can’t talk politics. As a result, I was intrigued by the chapter called “Don’t Argue” in Trish Hall’s Writing to Persuade.
Arguments don’t get good results
Hall makes a case against arguing with people with whom you disagree. She says, “Intriguing studies suggest that when faced with aggression, people don’t change their minds. They hold even more fiercely to what they believe.” I believe she’s referring to heated arguments, rather than logical exchanges about low-stakes issues.
“This Article Won’t Change Your Mind,” an article in The Atlantic, says that people try to avoid cognitive dissonance—the discomfort of holding two thoughts that conflict. “There are facts, and there are beliefs, and there are things you want so badly to believe that they become as facts to you,” writes author Julie Beck. This is especially true about a “belief that’s deeply tied to your identity or worldview” so it leads to “motivated reasoning,” according to Beck, who writes:
Motivated reasoning is how people convince themselves or remain convinced of what they want to believe—they seek out agreeable information and learn it more easily; and they avoid, ignore, devalue, forget, or argue against information that contradicts their beliefs.
Hall says that arguing is sometimes “performing,” in which the actors don’t expect to change minds.
Don’t do this
Hall says that if you want your listeners or readers to be open to changing their minds, do not do any of the following to your audience:
- Make fun of them.
- Attack them personally.
- Generalize about people—Hall says, “I stop reading if an article assumes something about me based on my gender, geographic location, or income.”
- Batter them “with facts that would appear to demolish their world view”—She says, “People like people who don’t try to crush them all the time with their superior knowledge.” And helping people to like you is part of how you open their minds to your ideas.
Do this instead of arguing
“Always concede the good points of the other side. What you want is to be heard, not to win every outing,” says Hall. She also recommends that you:
- Mention areas where you agree with your audience.
- Suggest that you may not have all the right answers.
- Offer choices.
- Use charts and graphs because “People tend to trust scientists, so using the tools of their trade…can make you seem more trustworthy,” as Hall says.
Hall’s chapter includes an example of how she used her suggestions to navigate a touchy political topic with her mother. I’m not convinced that she changed her mother’s mind. However, it appears that at least they were able to talk without raising their voices and getting angry at each other. That allows for an ongoing relationship. And, perhaps, opinions will change over time.
Will you argue less?
As I write this blog post, I’m mulling over how I might try Hall’s advice on my aunt.
If you try these techniques, I’m curious to learn if you get good results.
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