One thing I have been studying in the past 3 months is communication. People often feel that when they win, they need to point it out or the other person and even the audience don’t notice. And trust me, they notice. The only thing that happens after that is that you end up looking like an arrogant jerk. So what should you do instead?
Take note from my recent interview with Mark Corske from “Engines of Domination.” When I watched his video, I had numerous red flags going up in my head saying “this guy is a communist.” Instead of trashing him on the internet and on my page, I invited him for an interview. I planned to address the issues with him, but I could quickly see that Mark is a man of ego. I respect that. With the amount of knowledge he has, it is warranted. However, I knew that asking all of my questions about his potential communist leanings in a pointed fashion was not going to be well received and would quickly deteriorate the conversation into something unintelligible. So what did I do? I layered my questions. I started by tell him what I liked about his video. I was genuine about what I thought of his video. It was an extremely good piece of work.
Then, as I gained reputation with him and we bonded over his work, I asked him what he meant by what I thought was my first concern, his stance on corporations. It turned out that he defined a corporation in the same way I defined crony-capitalism. So instead of having asked pointedly if he was against free trade, I let him explain himself and it saved me an argument on semantics and a lot of misunderstanding.
First Lesson: Let someone explain their argument thoroughly, it lets them know that you care to let them be heard (which shows a respect that grants you their ear in any later debates) and prevents you from having an argument over semantics.
I then continued to ask some more questions about things that I liked. After that I asked a question about disarmament. I let him explain politely and when I was certain we disagreed (not just on semantics) I politely told him my point of view. He disagreed and we continued the discussion. However, the important thing to note about this particular agreement, is that I knew when I had made my point. I stopped when I knew that I had said my piece and had explained my reasoning. He wasn’t going to agree with me; I could see that. So I let it go. And that is one of the lessons that many people need to learn, especially in interviews. You are not trying to convince the person in the debate with you, but the audience. I felt I had done a very effective job of saying my piece on my stance and there was no more potential for productive conversation so it was time to move on. It was important for me to let him save face and he graciously, in his opinion, did the same for me.
This is how we should be approaching strangers on the street. When people are religious or dogmatic about something (most people are about at least one thing) they are unlikely to change their opinions in one conversation. It is not about changing their minds, it is about letting them know their other thought options. Let them walk away thinking about your argument, not wishing that they had never had the misfortune of meeting you. When you attack someone, they are no longer listening to you. So don’t attack, find something you liked about their argument and then tell them your point of view on the matter. You don’t have to be forceful to make an impact. Subtle is just better in any case of debate.
Second Lesson: When talking with people about opposing ideas, make the goal to leave them with something to mull-over, not to change their minds on the spot. Libertarians will tell you force is not the answer, neither is being forceful with an argument.
Then I went in for the big question about land ownership. This was my primary concern, so I left it until the end. This is why I did that:
1) I knew that by the end of the conversation he would know that I was not going to attack him if we disagreed (proven by the two other debates we got in).
2) I needed time to gain rapport with him and by that point in the conversation we had already talked about our opposition to Ayn Rand’s politics as recovering Objectivists so we had laughed together. Rapport would help prevent him from shutting down during the conversation with me.
I again led by letting him explain his point of view, which resulted in confirming my concerns. So I walked him through my point of view slowly. I did it slowly to establish the point of disagreement. He agreed with me that people should own the things that they create. I would have assumed by his explanation that he didn’t, so I didn’t have to waste time discussing this with him. When we finally came to the point of dissonance, I let him again explain why he disagreed. I explained why I disagreed, and magically, he and I talked until we found common ground.
Do you know why? Rapport. He knew that I was not going to make him feel bad about agreeing with me. And why should he?
Lesson Three: Walk people through your point of view to find the exact point of disagreement. This will save you time and frustration.
And Lesson Four is a Bonus: People get things wrong, don’t make them feel like a jerk about it. Then no one with want to talk to you.