To Get Agreement, Be Agreeable
"Try this exercise in radical empathy to minimize conflict."
An attention-grabbing headline, to be sure. Who doesn't want to minimize conflict? Isn't it worth trying something radical?
Turns out the radical new idea is neither radical nor new. In short: "Try to state the position from someone from the opposite side of the political divide so accurately and comprehensively that they agree you've captured their view."
We are prone to egocentric anchoring, or as Maria Konnikova puts it in The Confidence Game, "when we depart from our own perspective, as we inevitably must, we often make errors." Con artists capitalize on this by seeking out seeds of unity, so that you end up feeling you are "someone quite like them, with problems and aspirations similar to their own."
This sense of unity is described in Cialdini's Pre-suasion as one of the weapons of influence. The only thing more persuasive than thinking "that person is like me" is to think "that person is of me." Kinship is the strongest form, but a feeling of being part of the same tribe will willingly elicit strong sacrifice. Scott Adams says that identity is the strongest form of persuasion and will always beat analogy. Analogy, in turn, beats reason. As much as we like to think of ourselves as rational beings, our usual process is to decide based on emotion and then use confirmation bias to select rationales that fit our decision.
Dale Carnegie, in How to Win Friends and Influence People, quotes Abraham Lincoln:
"If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which, say what you will, is the great high road to his reason."
Notice that Lincoln describes the heart as the high road to reason. Although Lincoln admits a role for reason in persuasion, he agrees with Adams's assertion that emotion comes first. And in order to appeal to someone's emotions, we must first truly understand them and follow Carnegie's advice to begin in a friendly way.
Don't you agree?