Have you had one of those conversations where you just can’t get through to the other person? No matter how well thought out your arguments are the person in front of you always disagrees.
For example, you’re trying to show your friend Jack the benefits of fasting.
You have done a lot of research on the subject and you know the benefits and challenges of fasting. You can give proof with scientific studies and you have experimented with fasting and you’ve seen the positive results from your personal experience.
Even with such strong arguments Jack still disagrees and thinks “fasting is unhealthy.” What do you do then? Should you just assume that Jack is a moron and there’s no point to talk to him at all? Or is there a smarter approach?
Why Convincing Someone with Logic Rarely Works
Logical arguments work pretty well when you’re writing a scientific paper or a book. If we want to write a paper on how good fasting is, we have to present facts, which lead us to the logical conclusion that fasting improves our health.
To make this clear and simple let’s look at what a fact is:
An objective consensus on a fundamental reality that has been agreed upon by a substantial number of experts.
A fact is a statement that everybody can agree with. For example, we can say that Jack is taller than Elizabeth. If we measure their height, everybody can agree that is a fact.
What is a logical conclusion?
The relationship between statements that holds true when one statement logically follows from one or more statements.
A logical conclusion is something that we deduct from two or more facts. For example, we know that Jack is taller than Elizabeth, it’s a fact. We also know that Elizabeth is taller than Susan, it’s also a fact. Therefore, we can conclude that Jack is also taller than Susan, even though we haven’t compared their height directly.
It seems like if we present the logical facts to someone they should always agree and come to the same conclusion. Therefore, the more logical facts and arguments we have the more influential we will be. However, as you probably know, it usually doesn’t work that way. That is because we assume people are mostly rational beings. The reality is that most of the time we’re irrational because of our emotional states.
Instead of logic being our first priority, frequently we care more about our current emotional needs, like the need for approval or higher social status. Being in an intense emotion also takes us from a logical into an irrational mode. If Jack is angry right now, good luck trying to convince him with a logical argument.
I’m sure you have noticed that in yourself when you’re feeling a strong emotion. Have you had a situation where you were pissed off at somebody and even though they were bringing up a very good point, you just acted irrationally to get back at them? It usually happens with parents or in romantic relationships where the emotional connection is deep. Subconsciously we know they’re right but in that moment logic is the last thing on our minds.
How to Convince People More Effectively
So if beating Jack over the head with logic doesn’t work, what does? What will make Jack think rationally about the argument and consider changing his point of view?
Well, nothing will until his irrational needs and emotions are met first. Unless we figure out what Jack’s current state of mind is and help him get to a more rational state, nothing is going to change.
So what is an example of a need that Jack has that will put him into an irrational state of mind?
Jack is subconsciously perceiving himself as smarter than you. He might indeed be smarter and know more about most subjects, however, that mindset prevents him from seeing that you do have more information on this particular topic.
But for Jack to admit that he will have to change his whole mindset, which is a hard thing to do. He will have to admit that in some areas you are smarter than him. Since Jack has a lot of emotion around his social status and his intelligence, his first reaction is to reject the argument, no matter how reasonable it is. His first reaction is to assume you’re just not that smart and you’re somehow wrong.
Unless we help Jack change his view of his social status and intelligence, we’re not going to be able to get him into rational thinking again. We have to show Jack that his current mindset prevents him from learning.
However, we can’t just say, “You’re acting like a child, get over your ego.” That is going to inflame his ego even more. Instead, we have to put ourselves in his shoes. Why is he feeling that way in the first place? Why is he so attached to his social status? Why is his intelligence so important to him? Maybe he had a family that didn’t acknowledge his intelligence as a kid and he has the need to overcompensate. Maybe he is trying to win your respect and admitting that he’s wrong will make him feel stupid.
All of these needs and emotions are irrational but they’re there. In order to get through to Jack, we need to approach his needs and emotions with sensitivity and empathy. Ridiculing or belittling his emotions is only going to make the problem worse.
Being in an intense emotion is another thing that puts us into an irrational mindset. If Jack is angry at you for some reason, he will subconsciously look for a way to get back at you. Disagreeing with something that you say is a perfect way to do it. So unless there is a clean emotional slate between you, logical arguments are very likely to fail.
Besides your emotional relationship, Jack might also have strong emotions with somebody related to the subject. For example, what if Jack has tried a detox product a few years ago and it was a complete rip-off? It was very expensive and it actually made Jack’s health worse than before. In that case, it’s very easy to generalize all fasting and detox and make the assumption that it’s all unhealthy.
Until we approach Jack’s mindset with sensitivity and empathy and help him overcome his grudge for the rip-off company, he’s not likely to listen to any logical arguments.
Attachment to an Idea
Often we attach our identities to a single idea that we assume is a fact. For example, “I’m a very realistic, down-to-earth person. I don’t do woo-woo stuff.”
If Jack is very practical and thinks that fasting is something that only religious people or health fanatics do, he’s not likely to listen to a logical argument. He would have to change his whole identity to “someone who is willing to try unorthodox things.” Changing your whole identity can be a hard thing to go through emotionally. We have to admit that we have been wrong up until now and something else can be better for us.
No wonder we’re not able to get through just with facts if somebody has to change their whole identity to accept our rational argument. Imagine what would happen if Jack was very religious and you start giving him facts that disprove his belief. It would be at least counter-productive, and at most fatal depending on Jack’s religion.
Sensitivity and Empathy
To be able to convince someone with logic, first you need to get them into a logical state of mind with sensitivity and empathy. You can’t just say, “Here are all the facts, you should believe me now,” that never works. But the combination of the logic with the empathy has a huge impact.
However, that’s easier said than done. The advice “get in his shoes first” has been around forever and we would all do it if it were easy. So what are some ways we can get better at it empathy and sensitivity and as a result improve our influence?
Notice your own irrationality
As much as we like to think of ourselves as rational beings, we all just like Jack. We all have just as many irrational needs and emotions. When you start noticing these in yourself, it’s much easier to react with empathy and sensitivity when you see it in others.
If you regularly think of all the situations in which you act irrationally, you will begin to recognize yourself in other people. Then instead of ridiculing them, you will react with empathy.
Notice Your Inner Judger
We all have a view of how the world should be. We all have our preferences, likes, and dislikes. So when we see a person that is different than our current view of how reality should be we automatically start judging. We put labels on people like he’s an angry person, or she is very arrogant. Putting a label on somebody gets you pretty far from putting yourself in their shoes.
If you want to develop your empathy for people that you tend to judge don’t think about the “what?” Thinking about “what” a person is like is just putting a label on him.
Instead of the “what” ask “why?”
Why is he so angry all the time? Why is she depressed? Why is he a Christian? Asking “why” is the first step to begin putting yourself in their shoes. It gets you out of thinking “what they should be like” and into “why are they where they are”?
Find Common Ground
When we have a disagreement, the first thing we do by default is to focus on the differences. How does their opinion differ from mine and how can I change it? That’s helpful to clarify your logical argument, however, it doesn’t help you with empathy.
Instead of looking for the differences, look at where you are the same. Look for the common ground. Only by finding a point that you both agree on you can start to connect with the other person.
Let’s say Jack doesn’t agree with doing a water fast. But what about a juice fast? What if it was a short one, just for one day? What if the fast is just excluding meat from your diet for a few days? As you keep digging you will eventually find something that you both agree on. As soon as you do, you will feel like you’re on the same side trying to discover the truth, instead of on opposing sides fighting a battle. You can never be influential if the other person perceives you as an enemy.
Getting into someone’s shoes is a skill and it takes time and practice to build. You can’t just read a book and start being empathetic all the time. However, the more you notice your own irrationality, your judgments and the more you try to find common ground, the better your empathy skill is going to be.
As your empathy skill grows and you become more sensitive to the other people’s state of mind the more you’ll notice your influence growing. You will know what the appropriate times to use logic or empathy are.