Friends of mine went to Florida to help campaign during the 2008 election. In describing their training for going door to door they said they were instructed to begin by asking if the person had made a decision yet.
If the person had decided for their candidate, great. Thank the person. Leave some literature. Move on.
If the person had decided for the other candidate, okay. Thank the person. Move on.
If the person was undecided. Stay a while. That was where the important conversation could be had.
You often can’t sway people with a strong opinion on a topic, no matter how brilliant your idea or argument. The challenge isn’t improving your argument. It’s locating the people who can be influenced.
Think about the last time you had a strong disagreement with your boss, spouse, coworker, or kid. You give a reason why you are right. They counter with a reason of their own. This rarely leads to a change of mind or heart by either party.
Once we establish our opinions and begin the work of convincing someone else, we may not realize it, but we are also working at further convincing ourselves. Every argument we make is a statement to our own egos that we are right, making it less likely with every step of the argument that either side will be capable of changing course.
How do we redirect this calamity?
Try this question. What would have to happen for you to consider another view?
“What would have to happen . . .” signals to the other person that you accept and even respect their right to the opinion they currently hold. It also acknowledges that the future allows for change.
The word “consider” offers the other person the opportunity to explore the possibility of a new opinion without fully committing. This safety is critical to helping someone back down off the ego ledge they have been pushed (or pushed themselves) onto.
So, what would have to happen for you to consider trying this question?
Often we argue with people based on hunches of what the facts might be. My wife and I recently did this over ski helmet safety. Is wearing a ski helmet safer?
This is an interesting question simply because we had no idea. We didn’t know the research. We didn’t know the facts. We just knew what our hunches were. But that didn’t stop us from arguing.
There is no way to win an argument of hunches. The only valuable moves are to let go of the argument permanently or temporarily in order to go do some research and get the facts.
We need to learn to say, “Hold on. We both don’t know. Let’s go away and get some info.”
In my case when we actually tried to dig up facts we found research suggesting that helmets might help in certain skiing accidents. We also found research that said that the weight from the helmet on a child’s head might increase the risk of neck injuries.
So there was no clear resolution to our disagreement. But stopping the hunch battle was by far the best move we could make.
Most people (myself included) have a lot invested in being right. When we get into disagreements our emotions can flare, or even without the emotion, we can just stubbornly focus on the reasons we are right and the other person is wrong.
For a totally different experience, try this. Next time you are getting into a disagreement start your sentences with, “I might be wrong . . .”
For a real challenge try this. “Here are three ways I could be wrong . . .”
How many times a day do you try to win an argument? It’s natural and normal to do so, but there is something much bigger you could try to win.
In every disagreement you can try to win the argument. But you can also try to win the relationship.
You can have disagreements with your peers or your boss or your employees or your spouse. Your views may be logically and morally sound.
But no matter how right you are about the argument, most times the bigger prize is the relationship. It’s like going to a carnival and playing the toughest game only to win a little plastic kazoo. Meanwhile, the next game over is much easier and handing out 3-foot teddy bears to every winner.
While there are a few arguments that are worth winning at the expense of a relationship, they are very few and far between.
So by all means, get out there and win at all costs. Just make sure most of the time you are seeking to win the relationship.