Tag Archives: persuasion

Pascal on Persuasion

We learn from the 17th Century physics and philosopher, Blaise Pascal that when it comes to the art of persuasion, “slipping through backdoor of [someone’s] beliefs” is a surefire way to change minds. (Thanks, Brain Pickings).

In his book, Pensées , he writes:

People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.

In other words…use their words to your advantage. (If this sounds like one of the classic definitions of diplomacy, you may be right.)

Put simply, Pascal suggests that before disagreeing with someone, first point out the ways in which they’re right. And to effectively persuade someone to change their mind, lead them to discover a counter-point of their own accord. Arthur Markman, psychology professor at The University of Texas at Austin, says both these points hold true.

“One of the first things you have to do to give someone permission to change their mind is to lower their defenses and prevent them from digging their heels in to the position they already staked out,” he says. “If I immediately start to tell you all the ways in which you’re wrong, there’s no incentive for you to co-operate. But if I start by saying, ‘Ah yeah, you made a couple of really good points here, I think these are important issues,’ now you’re giving the other party a reason to want to co-operate as part of the exchange. And that gives you a chance to give voice your own concerns about their position in a way that allows co-operation.”

Source: To tell someone they’re wrong, first tell them how they’re right — Quartz

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Repetition Works (Even When You Are Wrong)

On how to persuade someone and the Illusory Truth Effect:

If you have prior knowledge of a subject, say, you’ve been studying greenhouse gas emissions for 30 years, someone just repeating that climate change isn’t real won’t have an effect on you. When you’re armed with knowledge, you can fight against the illusory truth effect. Still, repetition might make a statement feel true, but it can’t override knowledge that we have to the contrary. This doesn’t mean that the illusory truth effect doesn’t effect everyone, because you’re probably not an expert in everything

Source: Lifehacker “Evil Week” via BBC Future –  Convince Someone That Your Dumb Idea Is True By Simply Repeating It Over and Over

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Inside Negotiations for a Bipartisan Immigration Deal

A great article by Alec MacGillis in the NYT Magazine on how the Republicans and Democrats came together after Mitt Romney’s loss to Barack Obama–with a historic window to negotiate an immigration deal. Who were the players. How did the deal come together. And how it fell apart.

Three years ago, the G.O.P.-led Housewas close to reaching a compromise on immigration — one that might haveneutralized the issue for the 2016 election.This is the inside story of what went wrong.

Source: How Republicans Lost Their Best Shot at the Hispanic Vote – The New York Times

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Booklist | Rhetoric in Public Life from the head of NYT/former leader of BBC

The book had me at the sub-title; what’s not to love about a book exploring political rhetoric from the former head of the BBC/current leader of NYT? Even better: the book comes from a series of lectures on the “art of public persuasion” Oxford. Good stuff.

Beyond British and American politics, Thompson covers a wide range of additional subjects. He discusses the classic Greek elements of rhetoric, including logos (argument), ethos (the character of the speaker) and pathos (emotion), along with other Greek rhetorical concepts. He talks about the punchy, Trump-like language of Vladimir Putin and the theatrics of Silvio Berlusconi. A whole chapter is built around George Orwell’s famous essay “Politics and the English Language.” He punctuates his discussions with sweeping summaries like this one, in reference to social media: “The art of persuasion, once the grandest of the humanities and accessible at its highest level only to those of genius — a Demosthenes or a Cicero, a Lincoln or a Churchill — is acquiring many of the attributes of a computational science. Rhetoric not as art but as algorithm.”

Source: Mark Thompson’s New Book on the Use and Misuse of Rhetoric – The New York Times

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The Magic Word for Persuasion?

The magic word is … “willing.”

Psychologist Elizabeth Stokoe, a professor of social interaction at Loughborough University in the U.K., specializes in conversational analysis, recording and transcribing everyday verbal exchanges to try and understand their linguistic and social components. In a recent presentation at Latitude, a festival-slash-conference in Suffolk, England — think a British SXSW — she explained a common pattern that she’s noticed throughout her research:

When a request framed in more direct terms is turned down, a follow-up with a willing will often get the other person to cave:Are you the type of person to mediate? Yes or no. What was really interesting about the mediation “willings” is that if you ask someone “Are you interested in mediation?” they might say yes or no. But if you ask them if they’re willing to mediate, that requires them saying something about the type of person that they are.

That particular phrasing, in other words, tweaks the nature of the ask — a question that was formerly about an immediate action is now about a person’s boundaries, what they can find doable or palatable in a broader sense. “So, if we change words, we change outcomes,” she said

Source: Use This Magic Word to Be More Persuasive — Science of Us

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The Rhetoric of Brexit

The rhetoric behind Brexit (or Bremain) got heated–right up to the wire. Nazis and Hates Facts. As a thoughtful Greek, Aristotle may not have been proud–but he would have understood what was happening, as Sam Leith points out in FT:

The main problem both sides have is that they are arguing about what will happen in the future — economically, with regard to trade deals, security and migration. Nobody knows the answer: there are no hard data. The future, as the great man’s compatriot Nana Mouskouri once sang, is not ours to see.

The most respectable member of Aristotle’s triad of rhetorical tools — logos, or formal argument — is a little stymied as a result. So we have fallen back on ethos and pathos: appeals to personality and authority, and to emotion.

But to simplify the persuasive brief for each side, we might conclude the following:

Taken together with the economic warnings, the whole approach of the Conservative Party Remainers to the referendum can be summed up in the concluding lines of G.K. Chesterton’s sorry tale of Jim, the boy who ran away and got eaten by a lion:

Always keep ahold of Nurse

For fear of finding something worse.

For the Labour Party, the problem is a little different. Their job is to convince their core voters, many of whom are inclined to support Leave, that the EU provides essential protection for workers’ rights and welfare state institutions that would otherwise come under threat from a Conservative government. But it is difficult to make this argument without sounding defeatist. Does Britain’s labor movement no longer have the strength and self-confidence to mount the defense on its own, without help from European bureaucrats? Is the Labour Party conceding that it is never going to govern Britain again? When Yvette Cooper, a leading figure in the party, argued the Remain case on television, she was gently reminded by her Conservative opponent, the son of Ghanaian immigrants, that the National Health Service and the other parts of the welfare state had been brought into existence single-handedly by Clement Attlee’s postwar Labour government, unaided by any European institutions. This is a painful reminder of the power that parliamentary sovereignty once gave to parties of the left as well as of the right.

Source: Win or Lose, the Brexit Vote Shows How Hard It Is to Defend the EU | Foreign Policy

 

Worth Reading

The “romantic” and “distorted” language of campaigners who want Britain to leave the EU | QZ.com

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On Writing and Doublespeak

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Can “effective” policy writing do harm? A thoughtful speech by Rowan Williams as part of this year’s Orwell Lecture addresses the dark power of bureaucratic prose–and explores how Thomas Merton and George Orwell argued against such writing.

What does this type of writing look like?

Orwell’s rules for good writing have become familiar: don’t use secondhand metaphors, don’t use long words where short ones will do, abbreviate, use the active not the passive, never use a foreign phrase when you can find an everyday alternative in English. They are rules designed to communicate something other than the fact that the speaker is powerful enough to say what he or she likes. Bad or confused metaphor (Orwell has some choice examples of which my favourite is “The Fascist octopus has sung its swan song”) presents us with something we can’t visualise; good metaphor makes us more aware, in unexpected ways, of what we see or sense. So bad metaphor is about concealing or ignoring; and language that sets out to conceal or ignore and make others ignore is language that wants to shrink the limits of the world to what can be dealt with in the speaker’s terms alone.

Conflict and even war rank among the worst possible outcomes, and not for the reasons that we might imagine:

In another essay on war, Merton argues that it is not really true that war happens when reasoned argument breaks down; it is more that “reason” has been used in such a way that it subtly and inevitably moves us towards war.

Ultimately, this type of doublespeak creates a false sense of what is true:

Both Merton and Orwell concentrate on a particular kind of bureaucratic redescription of reality, language that is designed to be no one’s in particular, the language of countless contemporary manifestos, mission statements and regulatory policies, the language that dominates so much of our public life, from health service to higher education. In its more malign forms, this is also the language of commercial interests defending tax evasion in a developing country, or worse, governments dealing with challenges to human rights violations, or worst of all (it’s in all our minds just now) of terrorists who have mastered so effectively the art of saying nothing true or humane as part of their techniques of intimidation. In contrast, the difficulty of good writing is a difficulty meant to make the reader pause and rethink. It insists that the world is larger than the reader thought, and invites the reader to find new ways of speaking: it may in the short term draw attention to its own complexity, but it does so in order that the reader may move away from the text to think about what it is in the world around that prompts such complexity. Bad writing is politically poisonous; good writing is politically liberating – and this is true even when that good writing comes from sources that are ideologically hostile to good politics (however defined). The crucial question is whether the writing is directed to making the reader see, feel and know less or more. And the paradox is that, even faced with systems that stifle good writing and honest imagining, the good writer doesn’t respond in kind but goes on trying to fathom what the terrorist and the bigot are saying, to make sense of people who don’t want to make sense of him or her. Failing to do that condemns us to bad writing and bad politics, to the language of total conflict and radical dehumanisation.

all quotes via Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury and founder of Christian Aid, reposted in The Guardian as part of the 2015 Orwell Lecture.

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Feeling Uncertain? A Key to Effective Negotiation

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A new book, Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing  by John Holmes of New America offers and exploration through social psychology of how we deal with overwhelming complexity, simplification as a coping mechanism, and the implications for time-sensitive interactions.

Holmes: There has been some suggestion that there are certain professions where you have to deal with ambiguity under a high degree of stress and one of them is negotiation. There’s a lot of literature that says business negotiations require dealing with ambiguity under pressure, which is going to naturally raise everyone’s need for closure. So Kruglanski says, look, one way to combat this is just hire people who are low in need for closure. Now there’s a simple test [for that], there’s a 15-question test, it’s on my website.Via the Atlantic

Take the test and see where you fit. Holmes suggests that tolerance for ambiguity is a key factor in getting to a deal or decision.

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Persuasion Skills, Reframing, and How to Survive Tough Conversations Post-Thanksgiving Dinner

What to do: frame your position in terms of the moral values of the person that you are trying to persuade.  The problem? Its hard.

Why do we find moral reframing so challenging? There are a number of reasons. You might find it off-putting to endorse values that you don’t hold yourself. You might not see a link between your political positions and your audience’s values. And you might not even know that your audience endorses different values from your own. But whatever the source of the gulf, it can be bridged with effort and consideration.

Maybe reframing political arguments in terms of your audience’s morality should be viewed less as an exercise in targeted, strategic persuasion, and more as an exercise in real, substantive perspective taking. To do it, you have to get into the heads of the people you’d like to persuade, think about what they care about and make arguments that embrace their principles. If you can do that, it will show that you view those with whom you disagree not as enemies, but as people whose values are worth your consideration.

Source: The Key to Political Persuasion – The New York Times

So a main takeaway is to let go of your own views and develop a strategic view on how your opponents could possible believe in it. Its not easy to do this.Try it on these hot-button issues:

  • same-sex marriage
  • gun control
  • allow immigrant refugees/migrants into your _______ (state/country)

The skill of reframing has obvious uses for politics and diplomacy. But its also important for business. As Karim Benammer and Bernd-Jan Hilberts observe, Mauritius can be seen as a small insignificant island facing rising sea levels–as well as a headquarters amidst a huge ocean area with sustainable ocean mining opportunities and a”high leverage economy.” Here’s the work:

The idea of reframing isn’t new but the recent insights into moral framing come from studies produced by Robb Willer, a Stanford sociologist and Matthew Feinberg of the University of Toronto and were published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

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Public Diplomacy by America’s Diplomatic Dude

Who is Matthew Barzun and why has he been called a “tech-savvy Obama insider with a forward leaning approach to diplomacy“? He’s also referred to as “His Excellency,” but not in every setting. Writing in The Independent, one journalist calls the US Ambassador to the United Kingdom “America’s diplomatic dude.” And he’s bringing the élan of “cultural diplomacy”, Silicon Valley (and Kentucky)-style.

So when the NYT writes about his efforts to reach a key strategic group, it sounds like a case of good old-fashioned diplomacy: go into a rough crowd (teenagers) and actually listen to what they have to say.

Later, he said, “I want to give them room to be able to disagree,” not to force arguments on them. “If you go in thinking you’re in the argument-winning business, you can end up seeing a lot of arms folded,” he said. “But if you listen, people hear you differently.”

The reviews were good. Euphrose Tambwe, 16, said, “He asked us what we thought and then explained what he thought.”

She stopped for a moment. “It was really his honesty that got me,” she said. “I thought he’d come to say ‘America is great and don’t believe the media,’ and the fact that he admitted mistakes struck me.”

Source: American Ambassador Builds Diplomatic Bridges With British Teenagers – The New York Times

If that isn’t cool enough, how about stopping by the Ambassador’s Residence to enjoy a concert by The National?

Not the Ambassador’s favorite (Johnny Cash), but still a classic American sound.

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