The Failure of Persuasion

I’ve asked hundreds of people who attend my talks this question: 

Have you ever had an experience where you were talking to someone who had a different view on a particular subject than yours?  You both gave the reasons for your opinions.  Then one of you said: Now that I have heard the reasons underlying your viewpoint, I agree with you.

To date, no one has said yes.

Under most circumstances, trying to persuade someone of pretty much anything is a waste of time.  Yet we spend time and energy in this often fruitless endeavor.

A flawed premise

The premise of these discussions is that, if we present the facts in a compelling way, the other person will come over to our way of thinking.

This premise is fatally flawed.

According to Michael Harris in an article published in the Harvard Business Review, we assume decisions are made rationally (and not emotionally) because we believe that’s how we would make an important decision. We think making decisions emotionally is irrational.

Not true.

The emotional side of our brain has far greater capacity than the rational side. It can process “millions of bits of data without getting overwhelmed.” In contrast, studies have demonstrated the rational part of our brain can only process about four pieces of new information at a time.

Foxes Playing - Photo by CloudVisual on Unsplash

Over time, the emotional side of our brain has figured out a way to analyze information and calculate the probability of making the optimal decision. Just because a decision is made based on emotions doesn’t mean it’s irrational.

Other studies have demonstrated that focusing on feelings rather than factual details led to superior objective and subjective decision quality for complex decisions.

If you want to have a shot at persuading someone, you need to think less like Star Trek’s Mr. Spock and more like Oprah.

In my next blog, I will give you some tips that will help you do that.