The Art of Persuasion

We’re all trying to persuade one another of things. All the time.

Don’t eat meat. Undo Obamacare. Exercise more. Believe that God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. Remove Assad. Drink Coke. Teacher unions are obstructionist. Preserve public lands. Save. Invest. Block the Keystone XL pipeline. Lower taxes. Eliminate the Education Department. Legalize marijuana. Live more simply. Quit using poverty as an excuse and close the achievement gap. The Seahawks are the best team in football.

We’re so busy trying to persuade one another to adopt our point of view that we rarely take time to evaluate the relative effectiveness of different strategies to persuade others to think, believevote, and live like us.

Hundreds of ways to persuade fall along a continuum. Some write editorials or make documentary films. Others throw rocks through store windows. The strategies that are most near and dear to me rest upon education, which emphasizes the power of ideas. Educators like me use open-ended questions and words, both written and spoken, to inform people about different perspectives. Then, through civil discourse, we try to get students to be more thoughtful about other persons, places, and controversial issues.

Radical activists, rebel fighters, and state sponsored militaries attempt to persuade through physical force. Their tools include kidnappings, suicide bombs, guns, tanks, aircraft, nuclear bombs, and drones.

To be more persuasive the educator works hard to refine her questions, words, and listening skills. To be more persuasive rebel fighters and military soldiers often turn to “overwhelming force”.

Sometimes teachers become ideologues intent on indoctrinating students. And diplomats carefully choose words and policies to prevent wide-scale violence. And many people shout at one another, too impatient to ask questions or listen.

Your most effective form of persuasion is the life you live day-to-day in your home, in your community, in your workplace. A decade or so ago, Betrothed began walking and swimming each week and sometimes cycling around town instead of driving. One sunlit day in the kitchen, she credited me with inspiring her through my example. I hadn’t said a word to her about fitness, hadn’t even thought of it, and was clueless to what was transpiring, until she pointed it out.

Maybe you’re in the impatient majority and therefore believe persuading by personal example is for chumps. Why model values for years and decades when I can just raise my voice and argue my positions more vociferously?

News flash. People’s politics and behaviors are the result of their life experiences. Everyone’s politics almost always make sense in the context of their story; consequently, it’s next to impossible to talk others into thinking, believing, voting, and living like you.

Yet all is not lost.

People tune out your words, your blog (well, except this one), and the bumper stickers on your car, but they pay attention to how you interact with your family and friends, how generous you are with your money, how you deal with defeat, whether you laugh at yourself, and whether you show kindness to strangers.

Think of your personal example as the rock thrown in the middle of Lake Persuasion. The ripple effects are far greater than your more explicit attempts at changing people’s minds.  concentric_circles

One thought on “The Art of Persuasion

  1. Sound advice Ron. If only this concept could catch on with many people who decide to marry.

    Parents of course have the biggest and most enduring affect with role modeling. Sadly it doesn’t always create the results we would like as a society. 50% of all marriages now end in divorce. That’s 50% of married couples we know who likely wound up displaying bad behavior to their kids in the days, weeks and years leading up to the actual divorce.

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