How much do you like an argument?
When people disagree with you, do you rise onto your ‘high horse’ determined to change their mind, or do you feel exasperated and switch off?
Or do you generally find yourself somewhere in the middle?
Pick an issue that causes contention.
For example, climate change, the indigenous voice to parliament, to vaccinate or not, or just any government policy in general.
Imagine that you have a well-formed opinion about one of these matters, and you express it to a friend or family member with the intention of having them agree with your perspective and they completely disagree with you.
Or at work, imagine that you have an idea for something new: a project, an initiative, a new product, and you take your fabulous proposition to your manager and they reject it.
What do you do next?
Are you someone who would research more, because surely the facts are undeniable?
Do you try and find more passion for the argument, increase your energy, speak louder and give a better example.
Or do you go above them in the organisational chart and use authority to change their mind?
I have a much-loved family member who doesn’t believe climate change is a thing. It’s exasperating.
At times, I’ve used every quotable source to persuade them because surely the facts speak for themselves.
On other occasions, I’ve just dismissed them as senseless, out of touch with reality and changed the conversation.
As time has passed, I’ve thought about cutting ties altogether, after all, some relationships are just too draining.
In the end, I found myself saying something like, “We are just going to have to agree to disagree because neither of us want to fall out over this matter”.
It’s not ideal though, is it?
And you know, this kind of family annoyance (even estrangement) happens all the time.
An article published by the BBC in December 2021 talked candidly about the growing trend of adults who want to ‘break-up’ with their parents.
Nathan Ballantyne, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Cognition, and Culture at Arizona State University calls this kind of frustration “persuasion fatigue”.
His ongoing research is investigating the consequences of persuasion fatigue.
Associate Professor Ballantyne’s initial findings have found that persuasion fatigue is widespread.
“Of 600 people in the US who participated in recent studies, 98 per cent reported having experienced this fatigue, sparked by discussions of topics such as politics, religion and health.”
Their research has also found that “the other person in the conversation was at fault”.
Ha ha! That’s funny right? Blame the other person!
I know from my research, which led to the creation of the Persuasion Smart Profile (which reports on your persuasive strengths and weaknesses at work), that there are four main ways we persuade others.
And just like this research from Associate Professor Ballantyne suggests, most people try to persuade others in the way that they would prefer to be persuaded, instead of using the approach that would best work for their stakeholder.
And remember my famous saying, “You’re not trying to persuade yourself!” You are already convinced about your own argument!
The body of knowledge on persuasion and influence has demonstrated that when you are feeling frustrated, you are also typically resistant to changing your mind. You are stuck!
And further, your ability to experience empathy and understand the reason for the blockage in the argument is diminished.
What does it all mean?
Your persuasion fatigue may lead you to become a bit too self-focused and misinterpret the situation.
You may find yourself believing that your stakeholder is too stupid to understand what you’re saying, but in my experience, this is generally not the case.
So here’s what you need to do:
- Acknowledge. Associate Professor Ballantyne suggests you label your fatigue as the first step. “Simply acknowledging your persuasion fatigue as such may help you slow down, take a breath, … that brief reflective process may open a space where you can consider the sources of your fatigue more self-critically,” he says.
- Empathy. As a presentation skills authority, I’m constantly repeating my golden rule, “It’s not about me, it’s all about the audience”. Once you’ve acknowledged your fatigue, the key is to get into the other person’s shoes and in the spirit of true empathy, try to work out why your argument or conversation has stalled. What is that your stakeholder needs here to see another perspective? Maybe they need more facts and data. Maybe they need to better understand your experience with this matter? Maybe they need to hear the information presented as a case study or story to break down the barriers and connect with you. And maybe they need you to be more passionate and enthusiastic in the way you are explaining your perspective. If you want to know more about your own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to persuading others you can assess yourself here.
- Chunk it. Chunking is the art of compartmentalising your big argument into smaller components. For example, if your manager won’t agree to a new indefinite role on a salary of $220,000, maybe they will agree to you establishing a pilot project where you are seconded for three months.
- Rapport. Connecting through values positively affects your persuasiveness and there are some cool linguistic patterns you can use to do this. The idea is to first reflect what the other person knows to be true. For example, what do they value, what do they believe? And then once you’ve reflected this and built strong rapport you express your own perspective.
- Optimism. It’s wise to engage in all debates, arguments, and contentious conversations with a spirit of optimism. You’re not trying to belittle the other person, make them feel stupid, or win at all costs. As Associate Professor Ballantyne suggests, “Your fatigue may be exacerbated by thinking or assuming that debate is a zero-sum struggle—that you win if, and only if, your opponent loses”. If you keep an open mind (after all, none of us knows everything about everything) and strive to find a “collaborative truth” you may find your energy levels hold and your relationships stabilise.
There’s alarming research that suggests that persuasion fatigue does sometimes cause people to break up, quit their job, and/or cut ties with others.
We simply get ‘over it’ and we can’t be bothered to try anymore.
If you follow the five tips mentioned above then some of these break-ups can be avoided.
Remember my golden rule, “It’s not about me, it’s all about the audience”.
These words will serve you well and assist you to get what you want without damaging your precious relationships.