If we want any chance at persuasion, we must offer [our values] happily. A weapon is an ugly thing, designed to frighten and coerce. A gift is something we believe to be good for the recipient, who, we hope, may accept it voluntarily, and do so with gratitude. That requires that we present it with love, not insults and hatred. Here are three steps to make this easier.
1. Don’t “other” others.
When people feel excluded from a community, they can become hostile toward that community. Studies of people who lash out violently toward their communities find that they tend to have suffered social rejection. But even in less dramatic cases than actual violence, people know when they are not welcome or accepted. Go out of your way to welcome those who disagree with you as valued voices, worthy of respect and attention. There is no “them,” only “us.” Bring them into your circle to hear your views, as long as doing so would not invite and reward abuse.
2. Don’t take rejection personally.
Because we all establish our identities, in part, around our values, when someone dismisses your beliefs, that can feel like they’re dismissing you. But just as you are not your car or your house, you are not your beliefs. Unless someone says, “I hate you because of your views,” a repudiation is personal only if you make it so. The first step helps you prove to yourself that you can love someone with whom you disagree; this step is about knowing they can do the same with you.
3. Listen more.
According to research undertaken by social scientists at Yale and UC Berkeley, when it comes to changing someone’s mind, listening is more powerful than talking. They conducted experiments that compared polarizing arguments with a nonjudgmental exchange of views accompanied by deep listening. The former had no effect on viewpoints, whereas the latter reliably lowered exclusionary opinions. Empathetic listening, of course, is an act of generosity—a gift, you might even say. If someone is verbally abusing you, the best course of action is not to engage at all. But when possible, listening and asking sensitive questions almost always has a more beneficial effect than talking.