How would you, say, convince someone of a new argument or idea?

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Knowing how to convince someone — of anything, really — seems like a major deal in the modern world. About 50 percent of the Internet-connected global population uses some form of social media, which is a giant echo chamber where your views get reinforced consistently. In such a context, it’s hard for people to become comfortable with ideas opposite what they already believe. That concept — embracing the other side and considering their arguments — is pretty much essential to human growth, but it has died in the flood globally in some respects. That’s a problem.

In a business context, a lot of these efforts around “how to convince someone” occur in presentations — and, sadly, most people are horrible at presentations. Personal context? Social media, friend discussions, dinner parties. Political context? Stump speeches, debates, etc. All of it is a little bit fraught in modernity. We’ve got source after source flying at us — some of them fake! — and attention spans are dropping like an anvil every day.

Within this climate, what’s your path on how to convince someone of anything?

How to convince someone: Stanford research

Good Stanford research in this article called “Where do advocates come from?” Some moronic “thought leader” would probably tweet this in an effort to discuss employee advocacy, but it goes way beyond that. It’s very comprehensive, so consider reading it. Let me set up their main goal for you:

Their central questions: What compels people to express an opinion or argue a point of view, and how might those people be convinced to try to persuade others?

I’ve been wondering about this for years. You ever go on Facebook and someone posted about how a particular sandwich is bad? Like, at some random moment in time? Who gives a fuck? Why does your opinion about that sandwich matter at that moment to the extent that you honestly believe other people want to hear your opinion? To me, that’s the question of the modern world. Why are you suddenly telling me that you have bad allergies at this specific second? Why do 881 of your friends need to know/see this? It’s amazing to think about. (No one does.)

And now, the money shot:

Wheeler says his study, co-authored with Stanford GSB PhD graduate Omair Akhtar, concluded that “if you want to shape people’s behavior, you have to understand how they view the world.”


How to convince someone: Latitude of acceptance

You can learn more about “latitude of acceptance” in this article. Here’s your visual, though:

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Take any idea that has two distinct sides. There’s a cluster of people all the way at one end (“Abortion is terrible!”), then a cluster of people all the way at the other end (“Abortion makes total logical sense!”) and then a much larger group of people in the middle with a nuanced (to them) perspective (“Abortion is OK in these situations, but in general, it’s not.”) Your latitude of acceptance is, essentially, how far you can go in either direction and still be amenable to changing your perspective. Some people (those who are perhaps more open-minded) might have a wide latitude of acceptance; for other individuals, it’s very narrow. A less-academic way of saying “latitude of acceptance” is “The OK Zone.”

In short, when you’re thinking about how to convince someone (of anything), latitude of acceptance is how far they can be moved in either direction.

And what happens when you know how far they can be moved?

Cue up Stanford again:

Once you know what type of person you’re dealing with, then “you can frame or direct their opinions so that they’re more likely to advocate.” But to do that, Wheeler says, it’s also important to understand which of two factors have inspired their advocacy: Are they trying to persuade others to agree with their point of view, or are they simply trying to stand up for themselves and make their opinion known?

This paragraph is everything about the world we live in now. People love to bitch, and now they have multiple direct platforms to bitch — and their friends can see it, almost instantly! What a wonderful time to be alive! (Or a miserable one.) So when you consider how to convince someone of a new position or argument, you have to understand where they’re coming from. Some people straight up do not (NOT!) want to be convinced. They just want to speak. In a world with a lot of noise, they want to be heard. It’s that simple. Those people probably ain’t getting convinced.

Wait, what about facts? Facts and data matter, right?

LOL. Absolutely not. Read this.

Is this all the same as “fixed mindset” and “growth mindset?”

Somewhat, sure. But business co-opted “growth mindset” and turned it into a massive buzzword, so … I don’t like using that term. “Growth mindset” to most people now means “make a shitload of money,” and that’s unfortunately never what it was supposed to mean.

I try to think about work in different ways, and I also try to call out some managerial BS we’ve all experienced. If that kinda sorta interests you, I do a newsletter every Thursday. Feel free to join up.

Those terms come from Carol Dweck, though. She’s mostly in academia. Business sneers at academia (and vice versa). That’s another major problem, but too much for this post.

So what’s the answer on how to convince someone?

In short:

  • Understand, as best you can, who they are

This is probably the №1 time in all of human history for “number of opinions being voiced on a minute-by-minute basis.” There’s a lot of efforts to convince you of X-thing or Y-concept out there these days. We need to be thinking about these topics more, instead of just continuing to shout into the chasm.

What else would you argue on how to convince someone of something?

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