In the past few weeks I’ve barely looked at Facebook. I can’t take the back and forth political battles. Last night I caved. Bored, I popped open Facebook to see what’s going on. Of course, it’s all about Trump. A friend of mine went on a rant about how her Trump supporting friends refused to accept facts.
In my ninety or so articles on Medium I’ve never talked about facts as the key to persuasion. Why? Because it doesn’t work. Facts don’t persuade people who tie their core identity against your facts. They only work when your audience is already on board with your beliefs.
The Three Tools People Use To Discredit Facts
First, they’ll find other facts to refute yours. For example, let’s pretend you show studies to a global warming denier as proof it exists. It’s an attempt to “persuade” him to change his belief. You can bet he’ll find his own studies to refute your argument. The second way to refute facts is to re-interpret the meaning. When democrats point out possible Russian connections to Trump, his supporters see it a different way.
Don’t we want better relations with Russia? Why wouldn’t that be a good thing? – Taken verbatim by a Facebook friend
The final way to discredit facts is to attack the source. “Oh, you got that from the media? You can’t trust them as a source for anything.”
We all do this. Neither liberals, conservatives or moderates are immune. We may not even notice when we do it.
If facts fail to persuade then what do we do?
The Alternative To Facts
No, I’m not talking about “alternative facts” here. Our goal is to persuade without resorting to facts, which clearly don’t work. I could write a book on research, tools and techniques behind persuasive writing. I’l keep it simple for this article. Start by focusing on these three things:
Become An Observer
Take a side and you become the enemy. Approach battles like an observer. Think of yourself as someone above the fray merely searching for answers. This approach makes you less combative. It puts your opponent in a less defensive posture. Becoming an “observer” takes practice and self discipline.
Don’t worry. I have a few shortcuts for you.
First, use questions instead of assertions. You’re looking for the what and the why. Second, never draw conclusions. When you draw a conclusion you take a side.
Poke Tiny Holes
Persuasion takes patience. Look for small shifts. Avoid seeking drastic changes. Getting your global warming denier friend to switch his views and join you at next weeks protests go too far. Instead, identify his core beliefs and raise questions that poke tiny holes in his beliefs. Then, poke a few more holes. If successful, he may decide on his own to change his views. At the very least he may start to doubt himself.
When we create stories that support our beliefs we play the childhood game of connect the dots. Each dot represents a piece of evidence. With only a few dots to connect our stories fit nice and neat. Sneak in a few extra dots and suddenly they don’t connect anymore.
Provide A Scapegoat
Nobody likes to admit they’re wrong. Admitting you’re wrong about your world view requires self-awareness. Don’t count on it. We need to find a different angle.
Your opponent needs some justification before he changes his mind. How do you do that? Provide an external cause for their poor judgment. There’s three ways to do it. They vary in effectiveness according to the situation.
First, show how they were duped by lies. It’s not their fault they were on the wrong side of an issue or politician. They’re victims of bad information.
Second, the circumstances around the issue or person changed. Changing circumstances necessitate changing views. For example,”I supported politician “X” but the office changed him. He’s not the same person he was as a candidate.”
Third, provide smoking gun information from a trusted source. This one is tricky. It can backfire. If you present new info as a trigger to change someone’s mind, the source must be someone he trusts. For example, if a democrat or media source releases new information about a republican politician, your friend dismisses it as bias. If, however, someone he trusts comes out and says he’s crazy, that’s a different story.
In short, the reason for their incorrect belief must be an external reason and not their own faulty judgment.
There’s a lot more to it than these three concepts. It’s a start. Above all, maintain civility and leave the doors of friendship and family open. Cults thrive by getting their new members to burn bridges with family and friends. That leaves the victim no choice but to fully commit. Always leave that door open.