I was at an interesting meeting last night
sharing the evening with about 50 bright, energetic and enthusiastic people all
of whom were interested in having others buy into their personal philosophical
and political points of view.
During the discussion there were those that
thought strongly espousing a point of view was the way to win the debate. Others
felt that changing people’s minds was impossible and trying was useless.
Some of us, myself included, talked about
the importance of using persuasion. Some of the points made by myself and
echoed by others:
Years ago I noticed that my husband (now ex
for many years) would have all the facts and figures at his disposal and would
inundate others with his vast knowledge – he won the argument – but never
changed anyone’s mind about the issues. It’s not the facts and figures, it’s
not how smart you are (or think you are) it’s about finding out their premises,
their goals, their basic values – and working from there.
- First and foremost you must be
respectful and courteous to the other person.
- Never say “I’m right – you are
wrong” – no matter how diplomatically you might phrase.
- Listen and question more than
- Questions should be phrased
pleasantly with a pleasant tone of voice. No sarcasm or suggestion that the
other person is an idiot.
- One possible question: “Will
you share with me the reasons that led you to that conclusion?”
- As you learn about their point
of view, you have the opening to continue to use the Socratic method of
questioning (like a therapist holding up a mirror) or you can gently suggest
adding information to what they possess, or sharing how your point of view
changes that perspective.
- Don’t use big words – don’t use
vague umbrella concepts – don’t use loaded terminology – and don’t use jargon.
- Little by little you might be
able to persuade them to your point of view.
This is true in political arguments. It’s
also true in workplace discussions about product or process.
In order to understand the differences in
points of view, we most often have to go back to the basics: what are the basic
premises under which they are operating and what are the goals they are trying
One story from my consulting practice:
I was shadowing
the chief engineer in a transportation company one day, during my role as his
mentor. He and I attended a meeting that was being led by an out of state
consultant. Our roles were to listen – not to take over.
The out of state
consultant was offering his conclusions as to where signal switches should be placed
along the track for a new kind of train. He thought (for example) they should
be placed at A, C L, and Q. Another consultant (from a competing company) was
saying, you are all wrong, they need to be placed at A, B D, F, and M. The two
consultants went back and forth, “I’m right you’re wrong” without ever having
reached an agreement.
As I listened I
realized that their basic premises and eventual goals were different. The out
of state consultant was suggesting switches that would enable the most speed. The
local consultant, knowing the terrain, was suggesting switches that would
create the most safety. Each was right, given their basic premises and goals.
So, when we disagree with someone as to how
they should do something, perhaps we ought to first learn what their premises
are and what they want to accomplish.