ArLyne's Diamonds

A running commentary of ideas

Monday, March 14, 2016


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:
  • 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 you speak.
  • 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.
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.

This is true in political arguments. It’s also true in workplace discussions about product or process.
Goals and Premises

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 to achieve?

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.


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