Q: “What should I do if I find myself in a disagreement with someone? When it’s something important I feel I need to say something, but I don’t want to ruin the peace.” - Marcie P.
A: I sympathize with you, Marcie. I’ve found myself in that situation many times. When I was younger I was really bold in standing up to people, thinking the responsibility to right the world was on my shoulders. I rebuked anyone who I felt was wrong. Consequently, people hated me. And they had good reason. My intentions were good, but everything else was bad.
Over the years I’ve come up with an extremely effective technique to deal with these situations. In order to justify using a sensationalistic title for this post, I have decided to name this technique “The Amazing Persuasion Technique”. It may or may not be amazing, but I can promise you that it has been amazingly effective for me. And before you judge me for being manipulative, be sure and read the whole thing!
When confronted with a situation of strong disagreement, like politics or religion, the first thing I do is shock them. I shock them so much that I throw them off their game (so to speak). How do you do that? You do the thing they least expect you to do. You agree with them.
Trust me, this will put them into an immediate stupor. Their entire worldview will temporarily shatter beneath them. This will shut them up and allow you to talk, and they will be all ears! Often times in these situations they just come attacking you with a barrage of arguments and don’t let you get a word in edgewise. If you do get to talk, they don’t listen. So, being able to actually get them to stop talking and pay attention to what you are saying is extremely valuable!
Agree with them?
Am I saying to lie to them? Not at all. You must find something about their point of view that you agree with. There’s always something. You just need a kernel of something. Say for example, a militant atheist came up to me and started telling me how stupid Christianity is. I wouldn’t say a thing, I would just wait. Not too long into his rant, he uses the phrase “you hypocritical Christians”.
I would jump on that and respond, “I totally agree”! If he doesn’t stop dead in his tracks, his line of thought will get derailed and he’ll soon come to a stop, giving me a chance to repeat it. “I totally agree.” Then I will restate what it is I actually believe that links to what he said.
“I totally agree that a lot of Christians are hypocrites!”
Get on the same team
The purpose of all this is for the two of you to get on the same team. One of the biggest problems with humanity is our natural tendency to view those who think differently than us as bad people. If we change our mind, that would then make us a bad person. So, we strongly defend ourselves from even the chance of being pulled over to the “dark side”.
But, this is not true! I would hope we would believe different things now than we did when we were younger. We weren’t “bad people” back when we believed differently (at least not any worse than your average human). Studies have shown that we are horrible at predicting the reasons others do or believe things different than us.
We can’t come up with a good reason that a “good person” like us would have beliefs that are opposite to our own, so we assume there must be something wrong with their character. But, this rarely is the case. The truth is that there’s almost always more to the story than we realize, and the situation is much more complicated than we’ve been led to believe.
If you don’t think you can come up with anything you can agree with them on, then I would suggest strongly that maybe you haven’t learned enough about the opposing viewpoint. In that case, it might be best to forget trying to persuade them, and instead focus on learning from them. Ask them questions and try your best to understand why they believe what they believe.
Don’t be afraid to have your entire worldview shaken up! If any part of you still believes that a person must be bad in order to believe the opposing viewpoint, then you should earnestly seek to find out how a person no worse than you could believe it.
Get in the car with them
You can’t persuade someone by opposing them. Imagine the two of you are driving cars in different directions. You can’t persuade them to change directions by driving straight at them. It will either create a huge collision (which will result in even more animosity toward what you represent) or they will just swerve to miss you. But, if you get into their car with them, traveling with them in the same direction, you have a much better chance of convincing them little by little to start turning the wheel.
In other words, you need to make a connection with them. Once they see that you are not a “bad” person, but instead a real person who they can relate to in different ways, it will force them to change their perception and re-evaluate their beliefs. They will be curious about why someone like you would believe something they thought was so bad.
After stating what it is that you agree with and why, journey from there to your current viewpoint, telling the story of how you got to believe what you believe. Never attack them or their beliefs, or say they are wrong. Simply tell your story.
Going back to our example: After telling him “I agree that a lot Christians are hypocrites” I would next proceed in explaining how fed up I am with hypocritical Christians and how much harm they are doing to people like the person I am talking to. This is all 100% true. (Lying would make me a hypocritical Christian!) It’s important for him to realize that we legitimately have this in common.
After swapping stories about why we can’t stand hypocritical Christians, I would then relate that to how much Jesus couldn’t stand hypocrites and the vicious things He said about them. Now, not only does he agree with me, but he agrees with Jesus! I am giving validation for what he believes, and this is very important. Now, if he wants to dismiss me, he’ll have to dismiss the validation I gave him. This will help nullify his brain’s attempt at self-delusion.
Now we can have a discussion and share stories about why we believe what we believe. It’s very important for me not to invalidate his beliefs. Their beliefs are real and are important to them. We need to respect that. Instead, I counter with why I believe my viewpoint. This allows me to share the data and logic that counters his argument without attacking his beliefs.
Listen! If you don’t honestly listen to what the other person has to say, they will go back into attack mode. Look them in the eyes and show them that you care about what they are saying. The more they talk, the more they will like you. The more they like you, the more they will be forced to re-evaluate their viewpoint.
Is it personal?
Try to figure out if there is something deeply personal behind their beliefs. Ask them if they have any personal experiences that may have shaped their view. Often times their beliefs are shaped by bad or traumatic experiences. If this is the case, no amount of logic will ever convince them because you are battling their brain’s strongest subconscious self-defense system which will literally do whatever it has to do to defend itself, including self-delusion.
If this is the case, realize that if you were in their shoes, you would most likely believe the same things. Have compassion, and ask them questions. Show them that you do care about them and are concerned. Forget about trying to persuade them, just show them love. They will remember that!.
It’s very important to understand that you are not trying to manipulate them. Manipulation is wrong! The goal is to prevent and combat the manipulation they’ve experienced in the past, and the natural human manipulations of the brain. Strangely, our brains have many problems which prevent us from getting to the truth. This is the biggest reason there is so much conflict in the world. Without combating them, it will be nearly impossible to have any kind of a productive conversation.
Once you’ve combatted these manipulations, the person will be forced to eventually re-evaluate their viewpoint. Hopefully, when they do this they will arrive at something closer to the truth (and maybe you will as well).