Does Arguing Work?

My son Peter sent me this link.  Depressing news.   The gist is that people stop thinking when one of their emotional hot buttons is pushed. The study is aimed at understanding voters but the message should be clear to us all.

People do not give up old beliefs readily.

The story points out that people who are good at math get the wrong answer when the answer conflicts with one of their strongly held beliefs.  “The bleakest finding was that the more advanced that people’s math skills were, the more likely it was that their political views, whether liberal or conservative, made them less able to solve the math problem.”

Same son has said, “You cannot change an emotionally held belief by using logic.”

The story mentions and experience shows that if a person holds a strong belief then they hold it even harder if you present them with facts that contradict that belief.  Facts don’t matter.

Don’t use facts to persuade unless:

a) You just want to argue

b) You know how the person came to know what it is that they know.

c) You can connect what they know to the new context you wish to present.

You: “How did you come to believe that participating life insurance is a bad idea?”

Client: “My father told me and Morton Shulman wrote a book saying the same thing.”

You: “They were probably right then.  But things have changed since the sixties.  Here’s how.”

Now your fact based presentation will not challenge the belief, the one with no factual support or maybe with factual support which has been proven wrong,  but rather your presentation will help their belief evolve to a new reality.

Be careful of “Why?”  Why is an intellectual challenge and only raises defenses.  Better to ask, “How did you come to that idea?”  How did you come to hold that belief is a non-threatening question that elicits the same information as why, but in a form that can be discussed without defensive action.

When you have a good case, whether you are in sales, in the law, or a parent looking for action from your children, finding how people came to think what they do is important.  They will not automatically agree with you merely because you are right.

Knowing what they think cannot be dealt with until you know how they got there.  Failing to go through that step guarantees that at least one of your facts will conflict with a belief and when it does, you are close to finished.

Be sensitive to the need and confirm that their thinking is right and help educate them to a better belief.  The customer is always right.

Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international accounting firm and is presently with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.  |  Twitter @DonShaughnessy  |  Follow by email at moneyFYI

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