How To Let Someone Agree With You

‘Getting’ someone to agree with you and ‘letting’ them agree with you are two very different things

Photo by Metin Ozer on Unsplash

Summary: When talking to someone about political issues, if your aim is to change their mind, consider whether or not you are even letting them agree with you. You can challenge their current beliefs all you like, but if you aren’t providing your own perspective as a welcoming and attractive place to move to, they might not find what you say very compelling.

When discussing important political issues, you need to get out of your own way

When talking to someone with opposing political beliefs to your own, it can be hard not to try and change that person’s mind. Whether it’s because you think their ideas are dangerous, misguided, or ineffective, very often we find ourselves trying to make the other person come around to your way of thinking. This type of dialogue can quickly become adversarial — whether aggressively or not — and lends itself to the thinking that changing minds is a matter of force.

Just consider the language we use. Our aim is to “make” someone change their mind or to “get” them to agree with you. Even Google understands this…

However, what we rarely consider is whether or not we are giving them an accomodating space to join once they realise it’s not in their best interest to carry on with their current way of thinking:

In brief, are you ‘letting’ them change their mind?

The key to letting someone agree with you: push-and-pull

The exchanging of ideas should not always be an adversarial endeavor. However, the exchanging of ideas would be useless if it didn’t at least occasionally lead people to new ways of thinking and understanding. So, when your aim is to lead someone from one position to another, you need to consider these two steps: push and pull.

  1. Your aim is to push them away from their current belief by getting them to consider another point of view.
  2. Your aim is to pull them towards our own way of thinking, assuming you are confident that your perspective is in some way more helpful or better informed.

In my area of study — Weimar history — one of the big questions is what drew Germans to the two extreme political parties: the communists and Nazis. In this regard, there is an interesting idea called the “poles of attraction”, spoken about by historian Timothy Scott Brown in his work, Weimar Radicals. In this book, he presents the idea that all forces in society — be it ideas about politics, social issues, economics, food security — have varying levels of attraction to each individual. For instance, both communism and national socialism would have some level of attraction to each person, with that level being determined by a range of world views, values, social dynamics, and lived experiences.

It can be helpful to conceptualize our own discussions in this way. There is a certain level of attraction that your conversational partner has to their current beliefs and you want to reduce that, meanwhile increasing the attraction they feel to your own. This latter part is what I call the ‘pull’, and it is here that you need to consider how to ‘let’ someone agree with you.

If the only thing you are doing is ‘pushing’, or “making” someone agree with you, this can end up being very forceful. Your conversation will be filled with the best arguments you can give for why they are wrong and you are right, as well as impassioned calls for them to see things from your point of view. But often these conversations devolve into — to put it bluntly — very poor dialogue. This is the kind we see online, with SJWs and the Alt-Right yelling at one another from across the street, or in another context, it’s the tense family dinners with your out-of-town, out-of-touch Uncle. Each side is ‘making’ the other agree with them, and failure to do so results in ridicule and resentment.

Of course, some ‘pushing’ is necessary. You still need to do the leg work and present your conversational partner reasons why they need to reconsider their position on a topic. However, you also need to make your own position seem appealing; you need to show them why the grass is greener on your side of the fence, and actually give them a chance to move over and eat there. While berating and insulting people who you believe have dangerous ideas can feel cathartic, it will only do one of two things; 1) it will entrench them in their beliefs, or 2) it will make them change their beliefs, but not in your favour — perhaps becoming more extreme or even apathetic.

Neither of these will do.

The key to letting someone agree with you: in practice

So what does this look like? I’ve discussed in a number of other articles what principles work best when practicing ‘good dialogue’. The answer to the question, ‘how to let someone agree with you?’ is in the answer itself. By ‘letting’ them agree, you are not ostracizing them in the conversation itself, you are welcoming them to adopt your perspective: to join your club. You aren’t labeling them a bigot, idiot, or as being out of touch, even if you feel like those terms apply. Because no matter how satisfying this may feel in the short term, there is nothing that will make someone want to support you less than being insulted and belittled. When discussing important political issues, you need to get out of your own way.

Give them a welcoming space, help them understand that changing their mind when new information comes to light is a sign of strength and confidence, not just an indication of past transgressions. Compassion and humility go a long way, especially in a political culture that pays these ideas lip service but rarely puts them into practice.

Now more than ever we need to take a long, hard look at the way we are doing politics. How we experience and engage with political issues is just as important — yet far less acknowledged — than simply the content of our political ideas. To read more on this topic, feel free to subscribe to Practicing Politics for more content, and consider submitting an article of interest!

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Thomas Brown

Thomas Brown

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Student of politics and history. Enjoying the circus before the tent burns down. Founder of Practicing Politics — https://medium.com/practicing-politics