By Lisa Greene 1/4/2022
In political and advocacy work, we often need to get people to come to our side of an issue and to take action on that issue. And we often use persuasion to make that happen. What does it mean to persuade? Let’s look at some definitions:
Persuade (from the Miriam Webster Dictionary)
- To cause (someone) to do something by asking, arguing or giving reasons
- To cause (someone) to believe something, to convince
Persuasion, for our purposes, is the art of communicating with someone to get them to take an action you desire that also meets their needs. (For more information on using effective communication to persuade, go to this article.)
Another way to look at it is to think of persuasion as attracting someone to your side.* The definition of to attract is:
Attract (from Miriam Webster dictionary)
- To pull to or draw toward oneself or itself
- To draw by appeal to natural or excited interest, emotion, or aesthetic sense
When we think of using effective message framing to persuade, the concept of attraction fits quite well. Let’s look at the words in the definition of to attract: to pull or draw toward; to appeal to interest, emotion, or aesthetic sense. When we frame issues based on our values, we are setting the boundaries of discussion to appeal to another person’s values and draw them to our side of an issue.
In The All New Don’t Think of an Elephant! George Lakoff goes into detail on how to use framing to attract conservatives to our side of an issue. The following bullet points are an abridged version from the book.**
- Be calm and sincere and listen with respect. Use humor when appropriate.
- Maintain civil discourse and control strong emotions.
- Know your audience. Who is already on your side, who can be brought around (biconceptuals), and who will be extremely difficult or impossible to bring around? This is where listening with respect and for understand is extremely important.
- Hold your ground. Don’t be on the defensive. You may not be able to appeal to someone to come to your side but conduct yourself in such a way that you will compel respect and people will take you seriously.
- Don’t negate the other person’s claims with facts and logic. Reframe the discussion and then fit the facts to your frame.
- Once your frame is accepted into the discourse, everything you say is common sense.
- Never answer a question within their frame, reframe the question to fit your values. (Lakoff acknowledges that this may be uncomfortable so you may need to practice this skill.)
- Use future projection. “Wouldn’t it be better if . . . ?”
- Tell a story. A personal story is best.
- Always start with your values.
Notice that Lakoff suggests that maintaining calm, civil discourse, listening with respect and using humor is effective. This makes sense. If we are trying to attract someone to our side, it would be counter-productive to show anger, to talk over someone or belittle their ideas. They will shut down and you will lose your ability to attract and persuade.
Let’s look at a scenario. You are a volunteer advocate for a group that promotes developing and passing legislation on free healthcare for all Americans. You are going out canvassing in your neighborhood. Your goal is to determine people’s opinions on the issue, ask people to contact their legislators in support of the issue and join your advocacy group. It’s a nice day and you hope to have some productive conversations. Here are three possible outcomes.
After you state your purpose for being there, here’s how the conversation goes:
Neighbor A: “I don’t believe in all that socialist crap. Liberals are ruining this country with all their socialist ideas. Get all your forms and stuff away from me!”
You: “Thank you for your time sir.”
Clearly hostile, this person is not persuadable in this short amount of time. It would be a waste of your time to try to engage with him. He has a negative view of people he considers liberals and you don’t want to reinforce that view by engaging with him negatively. So you mark him as “strongly against” and move on to the next house. If you have other opportunities to talk with him at neighborhood events, you may be able to appeal to him over the long haul by engaging with him in a values discussion. But he is not prepared to engage with you in this specific encounter.
After you state your purpose, here’s how this conversation goes:
Neighbor B: “I absolutely believe that we need free healthcare for all. I’ve been hoping that I would meet someone in this neighborhood who is doing something about that.”
You: “That’s great! I’m involved in this group and here’s what we’re doing . . . .”
After several minutes of filling out forms, getting her contact information, giving her a brochure on how to write to her legislators and letting her know when the next meeting is, you say goodbye. Both of you are delighted in the knowledge that you’ve met a like-minded person in your neighborhood.
This person doesn’t need to be persuaded. You mark her “strongly for” and make a note to remind her of the next meeting. On to the next house.
After you state your purpose, here’s how this conversation goes:
Neighbor C: “I don’t know about free healthcare for all. It would make our taxes go way up. I don’t think the country can afford it.” (This person is thinking of this issue in an economic/scarcity frame)
You: “Here’s how I see it. I believe that good health is one of the most important aspects of being human. People cannot achieve their full potential if they are in poor health. Our current system leaves way too many people out.” (You reframed the discussion to the protection, empowerment and fairness frames.)
Neighbor C: “I agree that people should be able to access good healthcare. I feel so bad when I hear about people who can’t get the care they need or go bankrupt.” (You’ve touched on their value of caring about their fellow humans.) “I guess I’m lucky because I get good insurance through my job.”
You: “I used to have great insurance through my job but I no longer work there. In order to keep my premiums reasonable, I have a huge deductible. I’m afraid I’m going to get sick or need surgery and I won’t be able to afford the deductible. Wouldn’t it be great if people didn’t have to worry about that?” (You’ve used a story to illustrate the problem with our current system and to reinforce the protection value around people having access to healthcare. You’ve also used future projection.)
Neighbor C: “If that was my situation, I’d be afraid too. And it would be great if people didn’t have to worry about that. But I’m still worried about how free healthcare for all would work. How would it get paid for?” (Back into the economic/scarcity frame.)
You: “I can hear that you have concerns about the cost. I have a brochure that talks about the details. We could go over it now or I could leave it with you to read. I can leave you my phone number if you have further questions. We’re having a community meeting about this issue on March xx. Here is more information about that. I believe our country will be stronger if everyone has access to free, high-quality health care.” (You return to a protection and empowerment frame. This could also be a public investment for private success frame. It could also be a patriotic frame as you’re talking about making the country stronger. You’ve also acknowledged that you’ve listened to them.)
Neighbor C: “I have to pick up my daughter from ballet class. Please leave me the information and I’ll check it out. You’ve given me something to think about. Thanks for coming by.”
You: “Thank you. And please don’t hesitate to call if you have questions. I hope to see you at the community meeting.”
This person started off thinking of this issue in a conservative, economic frame. Yet was able to switch to a more liberal protection and empowerment frame when you reframed the discussion using your values. This person shared that value as well. If you had stayed in their economic frame, the conversation may have devolved into an argument about how much healthcare costs, who should pay for it, etc. By lighting up their brain cells around their value of protecting their fellow humans, you were able to engage with them at a higher level and within your frame. At a later point in the conversation, you were able to acknowledge their cost concerns and offer to engage them there. But that was only after you established the conversation within your frame. Neighbor C may not come around to your view in the short term, but you’ve planted a seed and they may be more willing to engage with you and others who share your worldview in the future.
Obviously, these scenarios are very simplistic and actual conversations will be more nuanced. But they demonstrate how to maintain calm, listen with respect, determine who is persuadable, reframe an issue and continue the conversation within your frame, lead with your values and be willing to accept that attracting someone to your side may take time.
It will be important that you understand your worldview and frame(s) before you go into these types of conversations. Connections Lab’s Stop, Drop and Roll technology will help you with that.
STOP and analyze: What are people saying about the issue? What frames are being evoked? What are the conservative frames you need to stay out of? Are there dog whistles or straw man arguments being employed?
DROP: Don’t use conservative frames and codewords. Don’t employ facts and logic until you have established the conversation within your frame. Don’t hit back or debunk – it just keeps you in their frame.
ROLL with a well-framed message that starts with your values.
For more information on employing Stop, Drop and Roll technology, see the Workshop Materials section of our website HERE.
* Thank you to Hobart Stocking for helping me see that attracting someone to your side can be more powerful than persuasion alone. Learn more about his work at www.skywaterearth.com
** Lakoff, G; The All New Don’t Think of an Elephant!; 2014; pages 156-164