Right & Left (Brains) Meet Again

Right & Left (Brains) Meet Again

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how a right-brained source, The Book of Joy[1], led to the same conclusion as the left-brained Harvard Negotiation Project sources. Both show us the possibility of the true win-win, in which no one has to compromise.

These different approaches intersect in another way—the practice I call “The Silver Rule”: When you wish to persuade or build consensus with someone, avoid making that person wrong, as by accusations or sarcasm. With the proper skills, you can even avoid directly disagreeing with the person. For example you can ask questions that lead them to your conclusion.

You might have seen a video[2] in which a man interviewed people on the street about sexual orientation. In calm, matter-of-fact manner, he asked, “Do you think people are born gay or choose to be gay?”

When a person answered that it was a choice, or that it was maybe a little of each, the interviewer asked a follow-up question, again in a calm, matter-of-fact tone, “When did you choose to be straight?”

At that point, most subjects—often with a chuckle—said that they didn’t choose. Some went on to the conclusion, “I guess it isn’t a choice.” To others, the interviewer asked a third question, “Do you think it might be the same for gay people?” and got a, “Yeah, probably.”

He only asked questions, never made a statement, and brought a number of people around to a different view without making anyone wrong, and therefore, angry.

Perhaps some people reacted less agreeably and were edited out, but assuming the video is a valid representation of at least some people’s candid reactions, the bland question technique worked well in a number of cases. I’d bet money that it worked more often than if the man had gone in preaching, rather than interviewing.

From the logical left brain perspective, a wealth of study and experience show that wrong making is counterproductive. People who feel made wrong resist your message by denial, rationalization and projection.

Suppose the interviewer had walked up to people and said, “Being gay is not a choice.” Denial would sound like, “Oh, yes it is.” Rationalization would sound like, “I’ve heard of people who change orientation, so it must be a choice.” Projection would sound like, “Of course you’d say that. You bleeding-heart liberals always mouth off without checking out the truth.”

So the left brain tells us to avoid wrong making as much as we can when seeking consensus because it works better. Instead of triggering denial, rationalization and projection, it helps people feel more comfortable so that they are able to actually think, rather than reacting on knee-jerk.

Wrong making generates fear and anger. As Yoda said, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” So, from The Book of Joy’s mystic[3] perspective, producing fear or anger in any member of our interconnected web will ultimately increase unhappiness for all. Again, we see that it’s best to avoid wrong making as much as we can.

The clever sarcasms and barbs made by political commentators might sell more magazines or bring in more TV viewers. But when you repeat those words to a friend with different political views, the cleverness works against you. The friend is more likely to resist.

Think about it. When you read or hear a sarcastic statement about your candidate or your position on an issue, what’s your first impulse? What words of reply come first to mind?

Like asking questions, many of the other skills I teach are designed to minimize wrong making. You can read more about how wrong making works against us and how to avoid it in Chapter 4 of Bridges to Consensus and in “Study Notes for ‘You’ll Get Over It,’” Love on the Rocks with a Twist.

[1] The Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Abrams

[2] There are several of these. In the Youtube serach line, enter, “When did you choose to be straight?”

[3] I refer here to true mysticism, the belief that all things are connected.


  1. Good advice, Margaret. Now if I can just follow it . . .

    • I, too, sometimes slip up, but the important thing is to be aware and keep trying, so we get better and better at it.

  2. I love this blog post Margaret, and the analogy of using neutral questions as a persuasion tool. Thank you for this post!

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