Anyone who has argued with an opinionated relative or friend about immigration or gun control knows it is often impossible to sway someone with strong views. That’s in part because our brains work hard to ensure the integrity of our worldview: We seek out information to confirm what we already know, and are dismissive or avoidant of facts that are hostile to our core beliefs. But it’s not impossible to make your argument stick. And there’s been some good scientific work on this. Here are two strategies that, based on the evidence, seem promising.
First strategy: if the argument you find convincing doesn’t resonate with someone else, find out what does. Whenever we engage in political debates, we all tend to overrate the power of arguments we find personally convincing — and wrongly think the other side will be swayed. What both sides fail to understand is that they’re arguing a point that their opponents have not only already dismissed but may be inherently deaf to. In a study done by Robb Willer, a professor of sociology and psychology at Stanford University, that conservatives would be more willing to support a hypothetical liberal candidate for president if that candidate used language that reflected conservative values. For instance, conservatives who read that the candidate’s “vision for America is based on respect for the values and traditions that were handed down to us…” were more likely to say they supported him than when the candidate’s message was framed with liberal buzzwords. Willer’s work is based on moral foundations theory, which is the idea that people have stable, gut-feel morals that influenced their worldview. When you reframe the morals of what you argue, it’s possible to change one’s mind about it.
Second strategy: Listen! Your ideological opponents want to feel like they’ve been heard. In a study published in 2016, researchers found that it was possible to reduce prejudice and sway opinions on anti-transgender legislation, with one 10-minute conversation. Why? Because the ones arguing against the legislation felt like they were being listened to. When you listen and highlight each other’s shared humanity, you have a far better chance of delivering your message. For more details on how to argue according to science, have a look here.