By: Jhael Hakimian
“You know, I am not even sure who in my orchestra believes what. I am not sure how I can talk to them about the things that really matter and avoid a conflict.”
It was Thursday night in Davenport, Iowa’s GLA-Level 1 Session 3 class. As she sat at her table, this elegant, blonde flutist shared how she loves the community of musicians in her orchestra, but her fear of rejection, conflict, and even repercussions keeps her from sharing a big part of herself. Her fear, she said, made her feel like she wouldn’t be able to change her fellow musician’s minds about freedom or people who shared her worldview.
She had no idea how much I understood her predicament.
I spent many years surrounded by wonderfully creative and talented people whose worldview was so different from mine. I had to learn to navigate these relationships while staying true to my beliefs and learning how to share these truths in a winsome way to change peoples’ hearts and minds.
The woman from Iowa knew, as I once did, that she was uniquely positioned to make a difference and had the responsibility to share the truth with those in her community of musicians.
Now her challenge is doing that effectively. How long does that take anyway? Or is she merely planting a seed while others, in due time, reap the harvest.
Most genuine conversions are not the result of a singular encounter. Conversion (when someone changes how and with whom they identify themselves) is the culmination of numerous interactions that break down barriers to ideas, beliefs, and values previously rejected, as well as false notions of the communities that champion them.
The interpersonal interactions that happen in daily life are a key part of this process. This means you can, over a period of time, play a part in helping change the hearts and minds of people in your community.
Where to Start
While every situation is unique, there are some general principles you can keep in mind that will make you effective in persuasive interpersonal messaging.
- Listen effectively, and reflectively – Above all else, make the conversation about them. Ask questions about what’s important to them, listen to their answers and let what they say inform how you respond.
- Be respectful, thoughtful and careful, not reactionary—There is no need to respond to every opposing idea. Pick carefully which statements you will challenge and when.
- Acknowledge and validate the person and their ideas – This is not the same as agreeing with those ideas. This is simply letting the person know you recognize their capacity for good judgement. Most people agree on the problems facing our country but disagree on the solutions. Acknowledging their concerns can make a big difference in ensuring the conversation is a productive discussion instead of an argument.
- Establish a common ground –Whether you’re both members of the geriatric arm of Hell’s Angels biker club, you root for the same sports teams or your kids went to the same school, find a shared experience or interest you can build a relationship on.
- Ask yourself what kind of information would make them change their mind—This requires that you follow the previous principles and remember what you learn about people.
If I’m talking to a person concerned about poverty and I want to show how freedom improves lives, I may want to share how American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks said he became a supporter of economic freedom because he cares about poverty. Freedom, the rule of law and free enterprise are the primary reasons why the proportion of desperately poor people in the world has declined by 80 percent since the 1970s.
- Remember this is for the long haul – Effective interpersonal persuasion happens in the context of some sort of relationship. Quick results are not the norm, and you may not see the fruits of your labor.
Over the years, I have found these principles work especially well to soften people who initially are extremely critical and closed-minded about the communities I belong to, like my faith community, or how I see the role of government. As I validate the person and their ideas, they are more inclined not only to listen respectfully to my ideas, but also receive my challenge to their belief systems, political views, habits and practices.
I create an open door, open mind, and open heart in another person by following these principles. The result is someone who is now willing to consider the validity of my ideas and hear me out. And although I do not always see the ultimate conversion, I know I have played a role in influencing that evolution.
You can learn more about changing the hearts and minds of people in our community at one of our GLA certification courses or Insight to Action programs such as “Connecting Across the Spectrum,” “Meeting People Where They Are,” “Messaging to the Middle” and “Selling Freedom.” To find out what training sessions are coming up near you, click here.