Try to See Things From the Other Person's Point of View
Is it an old woman or a young woman? A vase or two faces? A duck or a rabbit? A gold dress or a blue one? In each of these cases, it is a matter of perspective. And usually, once the illusion is explained, we are able to see both perspectives.
When dealing with other people, however, we often find it hard to see things from their perspective. Consider, for example, gun ownership. It is a touchy political issue in the United States. Generally speaking, republicans favor fairly unrestricted gun ownership rights, with one of their main arguments being the right of free people to defend themselves. Democrats favor stricter controls on gun ownership, arguing that allowing guns to be freely available increases the chance of them being used against innocent people. When the arguments play out, Republicans are unlikely to be convinced that they will be safer if they are prohibited from owning a gun, and Democrats are unlikely to be convinced that they will be safer if they buy one.
When seen from a distance, however, it is clear that both positions are driven by a desire to feel safe. I would argue that both sides would be more likely to find common ground if they framed their arguments in terms of gun safety rather than gun ownership.
Jonathan Haidt discusses this topic at length in The Righteous Mind. In it, he identifies six fundamental ideas that seem common to most cultures: care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity. How each culture defines these fundamental ideas may vary, but the ideas themselves are shared. To find out why a person is motivated in a way that doesn't make sense to us, it is worth considering how their point of view may reflect one of these ideas. Then, by identifying how we relate to that same idea, we may be able to find common ground and perhaps even influence their perspective.
Dale Carnegie says "other people may be totally wrong. But they don't think so.... Try to understand them. Only wise, tolerant, exceptional people even try to do that." We are cursed with a perspective that implies that everything occurs in relation to ourselves. As David Foster Wallace elegantly put it:
Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute centre of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centredness because it’s so socially repulsive. But it’s pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute centre of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.
Only by stepping away from our own perspective can we hope to understand or persuade others. So the next time someone takes a perspective that you don't understand, take the time to ask yourself "Why might they believe that? If I were in their shoes, would I believe the same thing?" Or better yet, take a genuine interest and ask them.