How to Give Your Readers or Listeners a Face-Saving “Out” if You are Trying to Sway their Opinion

If your audience is likely to disagree with you telling them they are wrong and then trying to change their view is not only pointless but counterproductive.

The most effective way to attempt to persuade a hostile readership is to use the same deflection and redirection technique a good salesperson uses: “I understand your objection, and one way we can overcome that… .”

What you do in a hostile-reader situation is this: 1)Acknowledge the objection,

2)don’t belittle it, and

3)deflect the argument into another choice you offer the reader.  

Here’s an example:  One of the most interesting pieces of persuasion I’ve encountered was a letter that came to me when I was involved with a local board considering land-use regulation.  In a nutshell, the government wanted builders to install a sidewalk in front of houses planned for a new development.  Builders don’t like sidewalks.  They are expensive and a nuisance to construct.  But instead of writing, “sidewalks are expensive and hard to build and you are wrong to require me to do so,” a builder used the three-prong technique, writing:

I do understand that there is a great need for sidewalks in high-traffic areas, with sidewalks being less of a necessity in more isolated developments.   It is a dilemma builders confront often, and in many cases, such as the ones to be considered next week, I ask for the option of saving on sidewalk construction so that I may give the buyers, many of whom will be first-time homeowners, a little more house for their money.  

Do you see the cleverness embedded in this approach?  The reader is not put on the defensive or told he or she is wrong.  The reader’s likely opinion is not denigrated.  And then the reader is guided into an alternate choice that does not require the reader to admit being wrong in the first place, either to himself or others. The reader is also given a viable, defensible fallback position: “I decided to change my mind about the sidewalk issue so I could give first-time homebuyers a break.”

Remember, when confronted with contrary positions, most people hunker down and defend their views, either explicitly – if directly confronted – or stealthily, by simply moving to the next article, channel, or conversation.

Author: admin

Carl Hausman is Professor of Journalism at Rowan University, the author of several books about media, and a commentator about the role of media and ethics in civic life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *