This 350 year old trick can get anyone to change their minds

Jessica Brown@Jessica_E_Brown
Monday 09 April 2018 13:30
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Picture:(Getty / Three Lions / Stringer)

You might not have heard of Blaise Pascal, but the 17th century philosopher, inventor and mathematician conjured a trick we can all benefit from knowing about.

Pascal came up with a method of getting someone to change their minds, way ahead of the curve.

He wrote in his book Pensees:

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.

In other words, if someone disagrees with you, you must first point out the ways in which they’re correct, before letting them discover the counter argument on their own.

He explains that persuasion is based on empathy:

We must put ourselves in the place of those who are to hear us, and 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.

Arthur Markman, psychology professor at The University of Texas at Austin, tells Bloomsmag that, despite centuries passing, this thinking still stands.

He said:

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.

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