Saber tooth tigers in the office

When does persuasion with arguments work?

Isn’t it frustrating: you put forward some good arguments; but your arguments are not taken seriously! How is this possible?

Saber tooth tigers in the office

In his book Thinking fast and slow, Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman describes how people often do not really think about what they are doing. He explains that we base many of our opinions on intuitive “rules of thumb” – heuristics.

Imagine that everyone around you suddenly begins to quickly run away; would you not start running as well? It would probably be wise to do so! Maybe they are running away from a saber tooth tiger! Doing what the group does is a rule of thumb that can save your life … If you are going to argue thoroughly about which escape route to take you will have already been eaten before you have taken your very first step towards safety.

There is also a downside to such heuristics, however. They can undermine our rational reasoning ability too! If everyone in the world believes the earth is flat, it’s still not true!

First, deal with the psychological armor

When we feel threatened, we will use those intuitive heuristics and not our reasoning ability. When your (undoubtedly) very good arguments do not come accross during a discussion or conflict, it might very well be caused because the other feels attacked. And when someone feels attacked, he will not take the time to consider your arguments.

Instead, he will hide behind his position, associate his ego with that position and react aggressively when he feels intimidated. In short, he draws up a psychological armor.

Always relax them first

How can you make sure that someone is more open to your arguments? In one of her books Pacelle van Goethem explains that it’s important to always let someone relax first.

When someone is angry, frustrated or stressed, he or she will not be open to your arguments and coming up with a reasoned argument is completely useless then. Your very first task if you want to get your arguments accross is therefore to make sure that the other is so relaxed that he or she is open to it.

Showing understanding: smarter than you think!

A good way to let someone relax is to let the other blow off steam: listen well, try to understand the other and contain yourself! Of  course this might be difficult. Sometimes the other person says so many unreasonable things! But beware, do not forget the goal: making sure the other is relaxing. A coach of mine once said it beautifully: “sometimes you’ve got to eat the shit sandwich”.

If you want to be effective with your arguments, you must first create a fertile soil. Stephen Covey stated it like this: “first seek to understand, then seek to be understood”. And yes, sometimes you should be the “wisest” first. Sit on your hands and ask the question: “Tell me, what do you think about this?” When the psychological armor is (finally) gone, your arguments will come accross better than you might have expected!

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