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 or stakeholder. They reject your idea.
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, give a better example. Do you go above them in the organisational chart and use authority to change their mind? Or do you just ignore them from now on?
I have a much-loved family member who doesn’t believe climate change is a thing. Its 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 and out of touch with reality and changed the conversation.
As time has passed I’ve thought about cutting ties all together, after all, some relationships are just too draining to be bothered anymore.
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 right?
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.
Ballantyne’s initial findings (which are still unpublished) have found that persuasion fatigue is widespread. “Of 600 people in the U.S. who participated in recent studies, 98 percent 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. In my experience this is generally not the case!
1. Acknowledge. 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”.
2. 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.
3. 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 $220K, maybe they will agree to you establishing a pilot project where you are seconded for 3 months.
4. 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. I cover exactly how to do this on pages 71-82 in the newly released second edition of my best- selling book How to Present; the ultimate guide to presenting live and online (Wiley)
5. 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 indeed 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.
Happy Persuading! Mx
© MICHELLE BOWDEN 2023
Michelle Bowden CSP is an authority on persuasive presenting in business. She’s run her Persuasive Presentation Skills Masterclass over 960 times for more than 12,000 people over the past 24 years and her name is a synonym for ‘presentation skills’ in Australia. She’s a multi-million-dollar pitch coach to her client list that reads like a who’s who of international business: banking and finance, IT, pharmaceutical, retail, telecommunications plus many more. Michelle is the creator of the Persuasion Smart Profile®, a world-first psychological assessment tool that reports on your persuasive strengths and weaknesses at work, the best-selling internationally published author of How to Present: the ultimate guide to presenting live and online (Wiley) and her new book is called How to Persuade: the skills you need to get what you want (Wiley). Visit www.michellebowden.com.au