June 30, 2022


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This is what science tells us about how to win an argument

The same was in the middle of a debate about animal rights. Perhaps because of Catalan independence, or for something as simple as if it is in favor or against the new Apple headphones. The fact is that, as anyone has ever seen in any discussion, it seems that it is impossible to convince an interlocutor that he is wrong. It’s like I’m ignoring our ideas! Clearly more reasonable than yours!

But no, it is not that the capacity for human persuasion is zero, but that we have probably been arguing in a wrong way all this time. And this is the advice that a 17th-century French thinker has to give us about it.

To convince someone that you are wrong, prove it right

400 years before modern psychology identified the three basic elements of persuasion ( attunement, firmness and clarity ) the multidisciplinary Blaise Pascal had found in his search for revelation about the secret of suggestion the psychological mechanism on which the dismantling is based ideological alien: the most effective way to show others that they are wrong is not to bombarded with arguments about why their ideas are wrong, but to slowly slip inside their beliefs. In other words, people will only change their mind if you first agree with them. I explained it that way.

It is more effective to persuade people with the reasons they have discovered than for those who have to accept from others. The art of persuading consists both of pleasing and convincing; since men are governed more by whim than by reason.

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It seems something fundamental but that can be overlooked. We do not like people to face our intelligence, and that is why it is important that we feel validated by our interlocutor (who tell us that “in part” we are right) before pointing out our misunderstanding (those points of our argument that do not seem like valid).

Arthur Markman, a professor at the University of Austin, went to the heart of what Pascal said and presented it as a discussion guide:

One of the first things you should do to give someone permission to change your mind is to lower your defenses, avoid feeling attacked and nail your nails on your argumentative floor. If you tell someone immediately that you are wrong, you are not encouraging them to cooperate with you, but if I start by saying ‘Yes, you hit the spot on a couple of points on this issue,’ the other person will open up to questioning. So the other person will give voice to their concerns about their position and listen better to what you have to say.

Another of the tricks that Pascal advised in his thoughts is precisely not to expose your point of view directly, but to let it be the other who ends up reaching that conclusion by his own mental deductions. We will always feel less intelligent if we are to accept another’s an argument as valid, but if our interlocutor exposes a series of facts that lead us to a new point of view, our pride will feel less damaged. We will feel that we own that position.

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A multitude of studies has been developed on persuasion. As the self-help manuals demonstrate, it is an issue that worries people of all kinds, especially those who must earn a living because of their ability to convince others. The conclusions about what works in dialectical struggles are varied, but here are some of the strongest ideas in this field.

When was the last time you decided to change your mind by knowing a story that could contradict your thesis? Our cognitive bias tends to favor ideas that do not challenge our preconceived ideas (which, in addition, tend to be greatly influenced by what our fathers and mothers think).

Even when we hear about the scientific analysis that rebuts our positions, we do not hesitate to distrust their conclusions. We believe that these studies are biased and biased, not like the studies that defend what we ourselves thought beforehand, which seem much more neutral to us.

An idea to prevent our judgments from leveraging is to write your ideas with the opposite hand to which you write naturally. If you are right-handed, write down the reasons why you are against the bulls with your left hand. And if you are left-handed, write down why your political party is the most sensible option with the right hand. That way, and in a case of psychological transfer, we will feel less comfortable with what we have written, and the shadow of doubt will open.