“You have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Those words just hit you like a ton of bricks. Without even realizing it, you find yourself in the middle of an argument. Frozen for a moment, you try to figure out what to say next.
The problem is, our default way of responding–which usually includes spewing out “facts” that we are convinced the other party will be forced to acknowledge–almost never works.
I discussed this recently with Jen Dalton, Founder and CEO of Virginia-based branding agency BrandMirror. Dalton addresses this question in her new book, Listen: How to Embrace the Difficult Conversations Life Throws at You.
“Humans are not rational so much as emotional,” says Dalton. “We tend to rationally justify our emotions and responses.” That’s why any attempt to use facts or evidence will usually backfire.
“Using facts to change someone’s mind just drives them to double down on their beliefs,” explains Dalton. “When someone feels a threat, they will go into protection mode and not be open to discussion. You may have dozens of sources, hundreds of facts, and it will still feel like an attack on the person you are speaking with. Explaining your facts slowly and clearly is like slow torture that can explode quickly.”
There’s a scientific foundation to what Dalton describes. This source of this reaction is the amygdala, the part of the brain that acts as an emotional processor. Whenever we feel attacked, the amygdala overrules our typical thinking processes, resulting in a type of “emotional hijack.”
So, what’s a better way to convince someone else to consider your perspective?
You have to find a way to get your partner to re-engage with the other parts of their brain, those that embrace collaboration and creativity. Do that, says Dalton, and the other person may be more open to consider new answers or insights.
“As humans, we like to feel like we belong,” says Dalton. “If our identity is threatened and we realize not only are we wrong, but our peers might be wrong as well…that is like being painted into the proverbial corner. Whatever our beliefs, if we want to move forward in the conversation, then we will likely need to agree to ground rules and acknowledge what we have in common first.”
And how do you do that? Dalton recommends reconsidering how you present your information.
“When sharing information, make it non-confrontational. Forget about trying to win an argument; if that’s your goal, you’ve already lost. Instead, focus on the goal of learning and influence. Think of each conversation as an opportunity to collaborate and move forward.”
For example, Dalton says it’s good to let your partner know that you were learning more about an issue and were surprised to find out X, Y, and Z. After sharing what you’ve learned, ask your partner to share what they’ve learned.
“Consider asking them questions about what they know about the topic–as a way for you to learn,” says Dalton.
This technique is excellent, because it gives your partner a measure of control and puts you on equal ground. You’re two people, learning about each other’s beliefs, searching for a solution…
And you’re doing it together.
The value in this approach is it promotes active listening and gives your partner something to think about, long after the conversation is over.
Do it well, and you’ll pave the way for future discussion–increasing the possibility that they consider your point of view…and maybe even change their mind.