It’s something we do around here a lot, argue that is. Which is not surprising for a site called Speak Without Interruption. In our often clouded attempts to convey information, opinion or viewpoint we encounter opposing views, or even different interpretations of what we just tried to convey. How we react to that opposition or interpretation says a lot about us, possibly more than the ideas we originally shared.
Mostly we converse and explore varying views with great respect and sometimes even an open mind. But many of us expect more, we want to win the argument, convince our detractors or misinterpreters that our frame of view is the most logical, beneficial or sensible. In other words, we want to be “right.”
Not surprising, it’s a very human thing to want to be right. To have developed opinions or understandings that are correct is crucial to our own self-vision and confidence. After all who wants to discover everything they “know” is wrong, or even a part of what they “know with great confidence,” is wrong. Believe me, as a Republican, I know all about that.
This is just one of the barriers to changing someone else’s opinion, about anything. Their own fear of being wrong. A second and possibly even higher barrier to convincing someone else of the “error of their ways,” is attitude.
There are two parts to attitude or, perhaps in this case, two sides; the convincer and the convincee(?) (Forgive me creating my own vocabulary, it’s a very old and bad habit. I’m getting better though, I used to make up my own punctuation as well.)
If the two opposing attitudes don’t “match,” as in pressing (the convincer) and open-minded (the convincee), then often that’s all it takes to defeat even the most well supported argument. Being “in the right” matters very little if you’re not effective. Instead of being crowned “the master convincer”, you’ve suddenly become the clumsy clot who couldn’t convince fish they live in water. Of course the most probable mis-match of attitudes is the all too common “everyone’s the convincer.” These arguments usually result is ever increasing displays of fervency and heart felt emotions, which not only are a waste of time but also very difficult to clean off the floor and curtains later.
The convincer has to approach the problem of changing the convincee’s mind delicately. First, because of the fears the convincee may harbor and second, the receptivity of the convincee to “approach style.” Just about everyone knows that the approach is crucial. Too loud, brusk, demanding or forceful and the convincee is shut down and not even listening anymore. An approach too soft, gentle and appeasing may threaten the perceived strength of conviction projected by the would-be convincer and the convincee’s own position is strengthened, at least in their own mind (tiny as it may be).
Sometimes we cannot see enough of the convincee’s own perceptions to make the correct determinations. Perhaps the principal in play is something handed down by their granny and simply is not up for questioning. Maybe we are dealing with a self-perceived “winner” and loosing is just not in the cards. Often it’s the convincee’s own perception of the convincer, based on something else they’ve said in the past, that disqualifies them as being “right” anytime, at all, ever.
The barrier could even be an imagined attribute. Perhaps the person you’re arguing with believes that thousands of miles away, somewhere on the Internet, you have a beard. They hate beards. Beards are the very bell-wether of untrustworthiness. I myself believe that many politicians have hidden “secret” beards that only come out at night.
So many barriers to cross when changing the mind of another. For me I think the most dangerous stage of any argument is the “winning part.” So many of us so want to hear the bugles of victory, we sometimes ignore the damage done. Often changing the mind of another is not pleasant process. It can hurt. Consider the implications in the realization of something truly terrible, like finding out ice cream really is made from the slimy gel on seaweed. Perhaps it’s not a “go outback and shoot yourself” moment, but it could be the end of all happy Rocky Road moments for the person you just convinced.
“Num, num, num, you’re right. I can really taste the kelp slime…”
Being “right” comes with consequences. It’s not all victory parades and flower petals. Remember, if someone finds it serious enough to argue about, it means they care. Explaining away the ramifications of the change of mind by saying to yourself “well now they’re better off” is akin to throwing a baby in the swimming pool and expecting it to learn to swim.
“Petey! Petey! You can’t hear me telling you how to swim if you stay under water the whole time!”
Any loss of confidence, general changes in world-view, or continuing bouts of depression due to the short (but nicely worded) piece above, particularly as it concerns Ice Cream and it’s consumption, should be duly documented and forwarded to frozen confection makers everywhere, some of whom first informed me of the terrible truth.
Copyright Prentiss Gray 2011