On One Hand

July 3, 2014

A simple trick to stop ‘arguing’ and be really persuasive

Filed under: culture,science — ononehand @ 2:07 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

There’s a tendency to think of persuasion in terms of winning an argument or debate. You’re trying to be rational: you’re thinking that if you defend your position with logic and evidence, and prove that the counter-arguments are false, the other person is now obligated to switch to your view.

If only life were so simple. In your mind you have proven you are right, but the other person is just thinking she or he needs to do some homework to come up with a better rebuttal tomorrow. Once you set someone up as your intellectual adversary they are not going to cross the line to join you.

That might be why political debates don’t have a significant influence on elections, no matter how well one side does or how eloquently the positions are argued. People root for the candidate they already support, and the arguments can stir up enthusiasm but they don’t “convert.” There’s a very different way that candidates vie for votes.

The reality is that people in the day-to-day world believe things because they want to. There are just far too many competing ideas and decisions to make to investigate each one objectively. Everyone is able to weigh different factors — pros and cons — to arrive at an opinion or decision, but the weight people grant to each factor comes down to how much they like and identify with it.

Persuading effectively comes down to this simple approach:


  • Identify an idea that you and your audience can already agree on. (Common values or principles, something you might both say is a problem, a universal need, etc.)
  • Validate your audience’s existing beliefs, observations and experiences.
  • Explain that those same reasons drive you to stand where you do.

And that’s basically it. People are very inclined to side with you simply because you are someone with similar concerns and reached the conclusion you did.

The main goals are to be relatable — the person you are trying to persuade is your peer, not inferior to you — and to emphasize your area of agreement so much that the other factors fade from mind.

Here’s the important part: DO NOT argue points where you disagree. Acknowledge them as valid points and then steer the conversation away from them. No matter how ridiculous you think they are and no matter how strong your evidence against them is, you’re not going to convince people their own interests or ideas are wrong. They will always be a factor, but you can say that a different set of factors (the ones that support your cause) are more compelling for you.



Think back to the last time you observed a political campaign. One thing you won’t see a candidate do is try to get voters to change their minds about their basic ideals and principles. They won’t try to convert liberals into conservatives or convert conservatives into liberals, but the candidates will jump and tumble over each other trying to validate the experiences and values of crucial swing voters.

They’ll say, “We know that families in Ohio are struggling.” (something that they’ve poll-tested to be sure the audience they’re targeting agrees). “Jobs have been shipped overseas, and too many people are worried whether the manufacturing industry — once the backbone of the American economy — is ever going to come back…” (validating the audience’s existing worries and experiences) “…which is why I have a plan to create more than a million new manufacturing jobs over the next five years.”

This candidate might disagree with the target audience when it comes to immigration policy, foreign policy or social issues, but isn’t going to try to sway their minds on those things. She’ll just keep hammering on areas where she and the audience agree, and try to make the election all about those things.



Now I call this a “trick” because that’s what it is; while it comes instinctively to many people, it’s a technique that can help you towards high-minded goals as well as goals that are very selfish and manipulative. If you’re trying to get people to turn against their own interests, eventually they’re going to figure that out and you might never gain their trust again. And if someone senses over time that you’re only feigning commonality to persuade them without being open to their ideas as well, they’re going to get really annoyed and stop listening to you. You’re better off if you’re looking to learn from people as much as to persuade them.

So be genuine and authentic, approach everyone by trying to find your common ground, and stop wasting your energy arguing! (Unless it’s something you really enjoy doing.)

July 1, 2014

Things I learned in my 20s

Filed under: opinion — ononehand @ 1:45 pm

Your 20s are your first decade as an “adult,” and most people in the U.S. are truly gaining financial and emotional independence somewhere around age 25. I still have close to a year to go before I’m 30, but it’s already amazing to think about how much I’ve changed in 9 years since I turned 20.

I started as an idealistic, ambitious college student working through hangups I developed in high school and earlier. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be or do, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to let the world — or even my own personality — make choices for me. Most of the time my energy was geared towards doing and being the opposite of what I thought people had judged me for. I wanted to prove those things were wrong.

Some of my self-perceptions were accurate and some were way off; I was trying especially hard to be extroverted and conversational (not something I lacked in, but I thought I did) — I compensated with a lot of partying and drinking. It meant trying to be more masculine (definitely unnecessary), trying to be more involved in the community (a good thing) and trying to bring drama into my life because I hoped it disrupted the risk-averse way I had grown up (obviously not a healthy goal).

No matter what your teenage years or upbringing was like, I think we all pass through these struggles. By no means are any of us set for life by the time we turn 30 — but when hiccups do happen, we’ve become a lot better at dealing with them.

Here’s what I learned in my 20s:


People aren’t judging you as much as you worry they are. 

In your early 20s you still probably worry whether people “like” you — not just friends, coworkers and family members but also strangers who don’t play a significant role in your life. It’s your imaginary audience: you’ll think about being attractive or about avoiding anything goofy or embarrassing that you think a person might reject you for. In your 20s you learn that people aren’t paying such close attention. The truth is, most people are just worrying about how you’re perceiving them.

I can’t count how many times I kept my distance from someone assuming that she or he was “out of my league” or didn’t like me, only to run into that person in a more relaxed setting and find out that they only kept their distance because they thought the same about me! In other words, we were both being standoffish out of fear of what the other thought.

At the same time, this means that some words of welcome, encouragement or compliments go an incredibly long way with anybody.


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