This 350-year-old trick can make anyone change their mind about anything
Educating yourself and developing your own opinions about the world is a process that goes on throughout your entire life (or at least, it should). Improving yourself in this way is something you can attempt by listening to others and empathizing with other perspectives. The thing that's hardest of all, however, is trying to change someone else's mind.
Whether it is a petty argument or not, there are times when you feel like you know you are right or that someone's opinion is harmful in some way. But no matter how extreme the view, actually approaching them in a non-confrontational way and having them listen to you without refusing to budge from their original stance is never easy.
So what's the solution to this problem? It may not come from where you'd expect it to come from, nor is it likely your first instinct in an argument. This essential trick comes from a Balise Pascal, the 17th century philosopher, inventor and mathematician, but it is still relevant today.
In the book Pensees, Pascal wrote:
"When we wish to correct with advantage, and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false.
"He is satisfied with that, for he sees that he was not mistaken, and that he only failed to see all sides.
"Now, no one is offended at not seeing everything; but one does not like to be mistaken, and that perhaps arises from the fact that man naturally cannot see everything, and that naturally he cannot err in the side he looks at, since the perceptions of our senses are always true.
"People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others"
For those looking for a translation, he is basically saying that if you want to change someone's mind, your first step must be to point out the ways in which they are correct, letting them find the flaws in their argument for themselves. This persuasive tactic essentially comes down to the key ingredient to human communication: empathy.
"We must put ourselves in the place of those who are to hear us," Pascal continued, "make trial on our own heart of the turn which we give to our discourse in order to see whether one is made for the other, and whether we can assure ourselves that the hearer will be, as it were, forced to surrender".
Speaking to Bloomsmag, psychology professor at the University of Texas, Arthur Markman, explains how this line of thinking still works today, despite it being written over 300 years ago.
"One of the first things you have to do to give someone permission to change their mind is to lower their defenses and prevent them from digging their heels in to the position they already staked out.
"If I immediately start to tell you all the ways in which you’re wrong, there’s no incentive for you to co-operate.
"But if I start by saying, ‘Ah yeah, you made a couple of really good points here, I think these are important issues,’ now you’re giving the other party a reason to want to co-operate as part of the exchange.
"And that gives you a chance to give voice your own concerns about their position in a way that allows co-operation"
Essentially, what both Pascal and Markman are getting at here is the idea that if you break down the barriers between two opposing sides, you may actually solve the conflict. People naturally get defensive if you challenge views they hold to be true, especially when they believe the issues reflect their own moral standing.
So next time you're being driven mad by someone who just won't back down from a categorically wrong side of an argument, try to make the discussion about cooperation rather than opposition.