Enjoying Your Work
Effective persuasion requires understanding those who disagree with you
People stand up in front of others and voice their opinions for a variety of reasons.
They may want to show their support for a company policy. They may want to endorse or derogate a political candidate or argue the merits of a proposed law to their legislators. They may want to condemn recent judicial decisions that they think are unfair. They may want to urge others to act in certain ways, such as to give up the smoking habit.
Often, when people decide to speak in public, they want others to change certain attitudes. But the others may have very well established attitudes, and thus, efforts to encourage change will be difficult.
I sometimes watch public access television shows that cover community forums such as the city council, hearings at the state Capitol, or various neighborhood boards. People stand up and speak in the hopes of persuading others about community issues, but they often behave as if they have no knowledge of persuasive communication. The speakers present their messages and are clear about their own positions. Then, people on the other side of the issue stand and give their position. Many times, voices become loud and the choice of vocabulary becomes highly emotional. In such cases, there is no two-way communication. People are simply talking to like-minded people and are not making attempts to reach out to others who disagree.
The others may behave in the same way, preaching their position to supporters who happen to be at the meeting, and again there is no real communication.
These meeting often end with people convinced that their position is correct, just as they were at the beginning of the meeting.
Good persuasive communication that may contribute to attitude change involves knowing the position of others who disagree and reaching out to them. It involves knowledge of others, the challenges of changing their attitudes, and respect for their ideas.
There are various steps that people can take if they hope to change attitudes, and these will be covered in this and several future columns. One step is to engage in two-sided communication. Instead of presenting just one side of the issue, good speakers point out the positive aspects of opponents' positions. This is especially true when others who disagree are intelligent and well informed. If people take the trouble to leave their homes and to attend community meetings, it is a good assumption that they possess these assets.
Two-sided communications have many advantages. Let's use the example of universal health care. Side A is that there should be a national health insurance plan administered by the government. Side B is that health insurance should be left to the private sector. People advocating for side A in the United States have to be persuasive and to change attitudes since there is no national health care insurance program. If they engage in two-sided communication, speakers advocating side A must be knowledgeable about various positions surrounding the issue. This means that they will be much better prepared when they present their recommendations.
Advocates of side A should recognize points emphasized by Side B, such as the risk of a massive government bureaucracy. People in favor of side B will respect the speakers for taking the trouble to recognize the positive aspects of their position. They may reciprocate by acknowledging the positive points presented by the proponents, such as better health care for the economically disadvantaged. Now we have communication! People are beginning to move away from speaking only to the like-minded and are reaching out to others.
When the advantages and disadvantages of various positions are recognized, there is a greater chance of developing a compromise position that will be acceptable to both sides. If this takes place, everyone moves their attitude a little bit so that a workable policy can be formulated.
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The purpose of this column is to increase understanding of human behavior as it has an impact on the workplace. Given the amount of time people spend at work, job satisfaction should ideally be high and it should contribute to general life happiness. Enjoyment can increase as people learn more about workplace psychology, communication, and group influences.
Richard Brislin is a professor in the College of Business Administration, University of Hawaii. He can be reached through the College Relations Office: email@example.com