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Published July 21, 2011 in Persuasion by Michael Cloud
Politics inflames the passions. Yours, mine, and those of others.
Political conversations can move from calm and thoughtful to enraged and irrational in just moments.
Once they get hot and hostile, we stop listening to and reasoning with each other.
I've been in these kinds of conversations. Many times. I'll bet you have, too.
Would you like a simple way to cool down these heated exchanges? A way to bring them back to calm and reasoned discussions?
Suppose you're making a case for ending drug prohibition and the War on Drugs. Your listener responds, "Are you out of your $#@!%&! mind?! You want millions of children to start using heroin or crystal meth? You don't care if airline pilots or car drivers smoke dope and endanger us all!!"
You probably know facts and arguments that would rebut or refute his remarks. But would they open his mind -- and perhaps win him to your side?
Here's one approach that can and does: "You've raised 3 really important questions. 1) Will ending drug prohibition lead to millions of children using heroin, crystal meth, and other hard drugs? 2) Which policy leads to more children using hard and dangerous drugs: ending drug prohibition? Or today's drug prohibition? 3) If we end drug prohibition, will we allow pilots or drivers to fly or drive under-the-influence of marijuana? Would you say that those are fair summaries of your questions? (Get confirmation.) Great! let's go back to your first question..." [Lay out your facts and arguments in favor of your answer to the first question. Then ask for his thoughts about it. Do the same thing with question 2 and 3.]
In just 40 seconds, this approach can dial down the emotional intensity. We can move from hostility to hospitality.
Here are the 4 simple steps.
1. Listen for the meanings and concerns behind his passionate words.
2. Translate them into emotionally-neutral and accurate statements or questions. Do NOT refer to them as objections, attacks, arguments, or criticisms. Those words make you adversaries. DO call them points, concerns, or questions. These words offer cooperation. Then convert the remarks into emotionally-neutral, accurate, and fair statements and questions.
3. Ask him if he agrees that your re-phrasings are fair and accurate.
4. Answer each point.
You can use this approach with conversations about minimum wage, fair trade vs. free trade, universal health care, single-payer health care, Fair Tax vs. Flat Tax, blue laws, right to keep and bear arms, foreign aid vs. private trade, the gold standard, or any other political/economic issues.
You can use it with political or economic or social issues. With business or family matters. With public or private concerns.
This 4-step approach slows down the conversation for a moment. It lets the other person pause and reflect on the issues.
It takes the emotionally-charged words out of the conversation. It replaces them with fair and reasonable words.
It allows us to think and talk over important things.
And that's all liberty ever needs.
Because the facts are friendly to freedom.
Michael Cloud is author of the acclaimed book Secrets of Libertarian Persuasion, available exclusively from the Advocates.