Two Sides To Every Story
Of course you're smart enough to know that there are two sides to every story. But is that what you're focused on when you're in the midst of a heated argument? I doubt it!
Not if the rational part of your brain has skipped town leaving the emotional part in charge. But what's the problem with that? After all, we're all emotional beings. True. However, your emotional brain without the input of your rational brain is like an unsupervised 3-year-old kid. Things get out-of-hand pretty quickly!
Let's hear two people who are absolutely convinced that they are right!
"My husband is so controlling. Things have to be done his way. Half the time he doesn't even know what he's talking about. Yet he acts as if he knows it all and I know nothing. I tell him how selfish he is. He doesn't even refute me anymore. He just dismisses what I say and goes about doing his thing – even if I expressly ask him not to."
Sounds like the guy's a real jerk, doesn't it? What century is he living in? Doesn't he "get" how he's undermining his wife?
However, listen to the other side of the story and things seem to be a bit different.
"My wife is forever telling me what to do. She reads an article, yaks with her friends, watches Oprah and that makes her an expert. She treats me like I'm an idiot who knows nothing. I know I can't win an argument with her so I shut up and do as I please. She thinks I'm controlling but she's the one who can't tolerate if anything isn't done the 'right' way - which just happens to always be 'her' way."
Sounds like the woman's a real shrew. Who put her in charge of the universe? Doesn't she "get" how she's emasculating her man? If you listen to the other side of the story – when it's not your story - your perspective readily changes. But that's harder to do when the story is yours. And it's practically impossible to do when your emotions are electrified.
So the first thing you need to do is to calm down. If you're steaming mad, deeply hurt or into righteous indignation, you won't be able to hear another's perspective with an open mind or a caring heart.
So first take time to heal your emotional wounds. Then when you're ready, see if you can listen non-defensively. Own up to things you do that may be irksome. Squash your "yes, but" comeback. Concede a point or two. Stop repeating your story. Soften your position. Recognize some merit in your partner's viewpoint (i.e. I understand how you can see it that way.")
Attempt to arrive at a mutual understanding. Aim to develop a workable resolution. If you find that no matter how hard you try your differences remain intractable, seek out professional help. You can't resolve every issue on your own.
How to Make People See Things Your Way
"If you frequently indulge in fast food, you're a complete idiot." There, did that make you want to change your eating habits?
"Buying gourmet food for your cat when people are starving makes you stupider than your stupid cat." There, did that make you want to change what you feed your cat?
You mean my pronouncements didn't influence you? You didn't relish being ridiculed? So why do people do it?
Making a strong, definitive statement may seem like the way to get people to change their minds, but it doesn't. What it does do, however, is to make those who believe as you do become more entrenched in those beliefs. Watch Fox News and you'll be ever more sure that Democrats are liberal airheads. Watch MSNBC and you'll be ever more sure that Republicans are out-of-touch idiots.
This is what Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein calls the "echo chamber effect." Political conventions rarely convince people to change their minds. But they do rally up the emotions of those already aligned with the party, making them more certain of the righteousness of their positions. Any surprise our country is so polarized?
So what should you do if you want to convince others to see things your way? Clearly, ridiculing them doesn't work. Well then, how about a more enlightened approach? Lay out the facts. Review the stats. Highlight the major points. Surely a well-presented, well thought-out approach will correct misconceptions, create change, foster understanding.
Ah, if only that were true. If it were, Al Gore would never have lost the 2000 presidential election. Kids lectured about the dangers of illegal drug use would never get addicted. And adults who know the health hazards of obesity would join the gym and wave goodbye to their high caloric food. But alas, as we all know, changing habits is not that simple. We are highly emotional beings who readily digest tasteful ideas while upchucking distasteful ones. We hold onto our convictions come hell or high water, especially when new ones would require us to alter the way we think about things.
So, what can you do to influence people when both emotional and rational arguments fall short of the mark? The key factor is not what you say but who says it. Whom do you think a kid is more likely to listen to about the dangers of drugs? A worried parent or the star quarterback? Whom do you think you're more likely to listen to about the need to lose weight? Your nagging spouse or your concerned cardiologist?
If you're looking to make a case for someone to get on board with your agenda, do what George W. Bush did when he needed the backing of the American people for an invasion of Iraq. He got a well-respected, trusted spokesperson to seal the deal. His man? General Colin Powell - not a person to be easily dismissed. When Powell "showed" us aerial photos of Hussein's nuclear warheads, he convinced many that war was necessary. When the information turned out to be false, those who initially opposed the war felt duped. Those who were backing the war anyway found another reason why it was the right thing to do.
So next time you're trying to make a pitch for your point, don't expect either a rational or an emotional plea to work. It's only if the person trusts you on this particular topic, that you have much credence.
Linda is a psychologist and personal coach in private practice who specializes in helping people enrich their lives, enhance their relationships and overcome self-defeating patterns of behavior. For more information about her work, contact her by email or visit her website at PsychWisdom.