Business advice: How to convince people to follow a logical argument

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By Bill Caswell

Special to Ontario Construction News

For many people, it’s sufficient when a respected authority offers reassurances on the issue. But stating directly an opposing position can backfire because the other person may feel a lack of autonomy. Herein lies the key: forcing your position onto a person will create in that individual a sense of loss of control. Somehow you need to give control back to that person.

To remind you, we have often stated that a sense of control is the number one human need after survival and procreation. That is, your priority #1 is to ensure the other person feels a sense of control; priority #2 is to pursue your argument.

This reversal of priorities is not new. For example, when a person is angry with you, the priorities shift to first deal with the person’s emotions, and when they are stable, begin the second priority of resolving the problem sources.

Generally, your chat with the resisting person should be done in the spirit of compassion, without judgment, and that you view that individual’s position with respect. This is the path that will lead you to assist the person to find their own motivation to change.

Start with an open question. To establish trust and determine the main reason for someone’s hesitation, start with an open question. The fear of vaccination against COVID-19 is a current topical example1 we can use: “What do you think about the COVID-19 vaccine?”  Or, “What more do you want to know about the vaccine?”

Ask for permission to introduce new information. Even though you will need to give new information, you must realize that it is crucial to ask for permission to give that new information so that the individual feels in control. If people allow you to give new information, they are going to start listening to you. But if you give unsolicited information, they are not going to listen to you. They will just think about all their counter-argument.

Ask them about potential upsides.  Whatever the potential upside of your position is, don’t you suggest the reasons. It’s more effective if the resisting persons express it themselves. In the case of COVID-19 vaccination, maybe it’s for the freedom to travel; or to protect a grandparent; or the option of going to school, or work, without a mask.

Take it slowly. If you’re faced with hesitant people, you will not change their minds in five or 10 minutes. That is, if you move too fast it could be counterproductive. So, you might say: “Thank you very much for the discussion. Perhaps we could have another talk tomorrow [or in two weeks, or whenever].” This is important. Your first point is a simple seed that you put in someone’s mind that the individual can trust you, that you are going to listen to them. You need to convey the idea that you are not going to force people to change their minds quickly.

Then, you can continue the discussion later. As I said, it’s not easy.

Good luck!

Bill Caswell leads the Caswell Corporate Coaching Company (CCCC) in Ottawa, or email

1 Dr. Arnaud Gagneur, “Convincing the Hesitant,” New York Times, 23 June 2021.


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