Editor’s note: this story pairs with “Why Americans change their minds (or don’t)”
There’s no universal strategy for persuading humans, according to BYU psychology professor Mikle South.
“Some people really just want the facts, some people — including some people who are, like, in charge of our country right now — don’t care a lick for facts,” South said.
Furthermore, some people like to come to a decision independently, while others like to be told what to believe, according to South.
“You’ve got to know your audience,” South said.
Utah Valley University alum Mike Campbell said when he tries to persuade people to think more like he does, he changes his tactics depending on the person.
Campbell, who identifies as a libertarian, said he usually throws out a statement — such as “taxation is theft” — and observes how the other person reacts.
If they’re interested, he refers them to reading materials.
Campbell said “having somebody explain something to you is OK,” but “learning for yourself gives you more time to react in a more natural and authentic way.”
BYU student Tanner Todd said he tries to persuade people by first listening to them while they explain their position, trying to remember they’ve made an opinion based on their own experiences.
“When you do that, they’re much more likely to listen to you,” Todd said.
Todd also said empathy is an important element of persuasion.
“I think a much more empathetic approach is the only way that anyone will actually change, and that’s probably why people don’t, is because there tends to be a general lack of empathy in the dialogue right now,” Todd said.
A 2016 study by Cornell University researchers examined conversations on the “ChangeMyView” Reddit forum, where users post their opinions and challenge others to change their minds. When someone changes the original poster’s opinion, the original poster awards them a “delta” and explains why they changed their position.
The study found that the most successful arguments on “ChangeMyView” used specific examples and hedging. Arguments that carried on for more than four back-and-forth replies had “virtually no chance” of changing the poster’s mind, according to the researchers.
The study also found that posters who conveyed more openness by avoiding superlatives and words such as “everyone” or “nothing” were more likely to change their minds.