Many people try to get others to change their perspectives by being as harsh as possible until they decide to listen. On the one hand, I can definitely see the appeal. It’s easy: all I have to do is think about all the reasons I’m right and they’re wrong, and accompany each point with mockery of varying sophistication.
That said, have you found that the approach of castigating or condemning adult humans tends to make them put more effort into learning and becoming better people? In my interactions with many different humans, that approach has not gotten them to change the way I wanted them to. I find that people learn not to seek improvement if the first step is punishment.
The following method of applying deconstruction mindset has brought me considerably more success in persuading people to update their point of view. It builds off of the three-step collaborative truth-seeking method. (Each of the three steps below should incorporate all previous steps. If you hit a sticking point on any step, I recommend going back and focusing more on the previous one.)
1. Make Them Comfortable
Even if—no, especially if a person seems ignorant and intellectually lazy, this step is critical. Human brains tend to work best when they’re comfortable, and with some people you’ll want them to start out with all the brain function they can get. It’s not about whether they “deserve” to be comfortable—they’ll be plenty uncomfortable later in this process. They’ll only engage with the process, though, if they feel understood and respected for who they already are. (I’m frequently surprised by whom I can learn to understand and respect when I’m looking to change their mind.)
To make a person comfortable, you can express appreciation for one or more of their values relevant to the situation at hand. You don’t have to agree with what they do to fulfill the value; you just have to recognize that in principle, it’s a valid value to have and one that you may share in some capacity.
Additionally, although many people paraphrase their ideological rivals to twist their words, paraphrasing with kindness and suspended judgment is actually more effectively used to make people feel comfortable by establishing mutual understanding of where you’re both starting from.
2. Make Them Think
Once they’re comfortable, you can start asking questions. Asking them to elaborate on reasoning you don’t follow will also make them comfortable. People like explaining themselves, and they’ll end up reflecting more deeply on what they believe when they’re explaining it to a sympathetic yet skeptical ear.
I also recommend you ask questions about their experiences and share your own experiences to see how they compare. Keeping things centered on personal experiences and feelings (rather than on generalizations, predictions, or judgments) will allow them to see why you think and feel differently than they do. The experiences you share will make them reconsider their perspective. That’s where the discomfort begins, but at that point they will often respect you enough to continue.
3. Make Them Choose
Now that they have a clearer picture of the situation, you can emphasize the consequences of their behavior, and how it affects other people. You can make it clear what you personally will and will not tolerate and how you will respond to their choice. If you’re feeling generous, you can explain why. Then you can make them take responsibility for those consequences you made them think about, which gives them a reason to think harder about their choice.
That’s the finishing move of discomfort. With deconstruction, we stole their ignorance, and therefore their bliss. If they choose not to change, they can no longer overlook how that affects people. We can’t force people to make one choice or another, but they’re more likely to make a constructive decision if we use this deconstruction method than if we try to simply rebuke and command them, even if their decision isn’t exactly what we had in mind.
- Make them comfortable
- Make them think
- Make them choose
I choose to use this deconstruction method because no matter how frustrated I am, expressing my feelings without filters only makes me feel slightly better, and doesn’t fix the source of my frustration. It takes more effort and practice to use this method, but I find it’s worth it to help someone understand how to make better choices. For me, it means the world has that much more wisdom in it, which is my top priority.
(I also find that steps 1 and 2 become much easier and more effective through the use of the toolbox of concepts I’ve developed for identifying and describing people’s values and fears, including our own.)
What do you think? Would you consider the deconstruction method worth learning to use, or at least worth bringing in someone else to use it when you get frustrated?
(And did you notice that this whole article is a demonstration of the method?)