I had a quick Tweet where I suggested, “If you communicate with someone in a way that makes them shut down, you’ve eliminated yourself as a source of feedback for that person.” I was about to contribute to the ensuing discussion with some additional thoughts, but it seemed easier to turn this into a blog post.
Changing minds happens on the mental equivalent of peripheral vision. There are too many defense mechanisms in place if you try to go at it head on. First of all, you have to establish a relationship. And, I don’t mean this in a cynical way. Don’t establish the relationships to manipulate someone into changing their mind. Establish the relationship because the person has value. Even if you disagree with someone in major ways, there will be points of common interest or common cause among people of good will. Talk about sports, beer, kids, the challenges of work, the wonder of nature and the stars, anxieties about the future . . . whatever. While you’re talking about these things, chances are that you can move each other on the other stuff indirectly or subtly.
If someone knows you as a person, they can very well disagree with you strongly, but they’re a lot less likely to write you off as delusional or malicious (unless you’re, in fact, delusional or malicious). Coming at someone you barely know and demanding that they agree with you because [citations] just isn’t going to work.
This is slow, often unsatisfying, and, if the need is urgent, impractical in a lot of cases. But, even if it’s not sufficiently effective, it’s still more effective than shouting at someone then calling them dishonest or malicious or stupid for not agreeing with you. Even if you have the most iron clad citations of all time.
And it only works when you’re talking about people of good will. There is, of course, malice in the world. But I think it’s less prevalent than we imagine. (As I say, over and over, everyone is the hero in their own mental narrative.) This doesn’t work for the malicious. You’re just going to have to persuade enough people of good will, then organize them to steamroll the malicious people of the world.