Last week, I saw a nice example of how non-argumentative communication skills can persuade without antagonizing. In this video clip, questions were asked in a matter-of-fact, neutral interview style. These questions got the interview subjects thinking without threatening them and raising their defenses.
The interviewer bolstered this effect by including a question about the subjects’ personal experience to help them see an analogy.
You might be surprised at how genial most of these conversations remained, even though the subject was potentially explosive.
First, the interviewer would ask the subject if (s)he thinks people are born gay or choose to be gay. If the subject said that they choose to be gay, or that it was a mixture of nature and nurture, the interviewer asked a follow up question, “When did you choose to be straight?” Listen to the clip and note the tone in which the interviewer asks this question: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/10/choose-to-be-straight-video-_n_3247301.html
Note that this is an open question, i.e. it can’t be answered yes or no. As I’ve written before in this blog and in my book Bridges to Consensus, open questions have many virtues, including the fact that they feel more comfortable, less threatening, and they inspire people to think.
This particular question also helped the subjects to reflect on an analogous personal experience. Many of the answers were along the lines of “I didn’t choose it. That’s just the way I am.”
Finally, the interviewer would ask, “Do you think it’s the same with gay people?” to which most said, “Yes,” “Probably,” “Maybe,” or “I guess so.” What struck me was the way they smiled or even laughed when they gave these answers, how relaxed they were. Contrary to what Facebook frequenters might feel, people today can discuss controversial issues civilly, even cordially, when we go about it the right way.
Another thing that struck me was that people who apparently were not entrenched on this issue still needed to be inspired to make the analogy. Those of us who are naturally empathetic, sometimes assume that others see such analogies. So if someone disagrees with us, we extend that assumption; we now assume that they can’t see the analogy. But as the video clip shows, that is not always the case. All the subjects needed to be asked, “When did you choose to be straight?” and a fair number even needed the follow up question, “Do you think it might be the same for gay people?”
If this interviewer’s skills could inspire people to consider a different view of a political and religious “hot button” topic, imagine what they can do for your every day life.
Let’s say you’re a late night owl, and the early birds call you lazy, or say, “It must be nice to sleep in so late every day.” To you, it makes perfect sense that, since you also stay up later, you are getting the same amount of sleep that they do, and you are putting in the same number of hours of work. It’s tempting to write them off as illogical or having a chip on their shoulders.
But what have you got to lose by a conversation like this:
“Must be nice to sleep in every morning.”
“What time do you get up most mornings?”
“What time do you go to bed?”
“And what time do you stop working and start winding down for the evening?”
“I leave work about 5:00, get home, eat, then watch TV till bedtime.”
“So you work about eight hours a day; spend about eight hours on meals, commuting and R&R; and eight sleeping, right?”
“What if you worked till 8:00 most nights?”
“I’d be whipped. I couldn’t keep it up.”
“What adjustments might you make so you could accommodate the late evening clients, have time to wind down and get a little R&R, and also get enough sleep?”
“I guess I’d have to shift everything back about three hours.”
“That’s what works for me.”
Can you think of other topics on which a combination of questions and analogy could help a critic understand your way of doing things? If so, I’d love to hear about them.
I’m sharing this one. It’s through the hoop, Margaret; pure net, 3 point shot. Thanks!
Glad you liked it, Mark, and thanks for sharing.
it’s kind of funny; my initial reaction was “hasn’t that ‘questioning approach’ already been around enough that everybody has seen the video clip- it would be kind of passe’ by now…maybe not everyone is on facebook where it has already been re-posted a half-dozen times…”
but no, not everbody is on facebook and not everybody is accustomed to being exposed to ideas that way. some people
(my domestic partner included) have so far managed to avoid
it, so FB “socializing” probably has sort of a reputation
already. trust me, some of us FB’ers do try to keep a fairly
good signal-to-noise-ratio. And yeah, at least in the video
clip, people were caused to re-think their assumptions about
orientation. but not all of them would. Notice that none of
the clip videos were of people spouting a bible-pounder view point.
You’re right. Some people are so entrenched on an issue, especially one that has a lot of emotional impact for them, that they won’t rethink things no matter what you do. But one thing is for sure: if you try arguing with them, they only become more defensive and entrenched. So your best bet is to try the open questions and other skills laid out in Bridges to Consensus. You might be surprised at how well and how often they do work well. And fortunately, many of the situations we deal with on a day-to-day basis don’t have as much emotional impact as the nature vs. nurture issue. Consider the second example I gave in the blog article as one on the other end of the emotional spectrum. So your chances of success are even greater in more routine cases.