agreement · Climate communication · education

Communication is a Two-Way Street – Especially if You Want to Change Someone’s Mind

One thing I love to see is when persuasive advocates are doing their job. It’s awesome to behold! Literature is replete with such examples as “The Devil and Daniel Webster” and Portia’s legendary argument regarding a pond of flesh in the “Merchant of Venice.” Persuasive argument is a strong talent.

covered ears
I don’t wanna hear it!

Over a week ago, I happened upon a tweet that was put out by three well-known individuals whom I respect. These gentlemen are interested in educating the public on the issue of climate. This is an important consideration because it sets the tone of my point and of this post: these are communicators and educators attempting to send a convincing message.

I read the substance of what they linked and I thought that the underlying message could have been much improved. I decided that I would not force the issue but rather I would offer some assistance.

I am a communicator attempting to send a convincing message. It’s what this blog is about – not fighting!  These guys, regardless of their goals, are appear to me to be ineffective in their content – this is particularly if they are trying to change someone’s mind.

So I thought I would offer some assistance.  I tweeted the following:

Guys. Would you be open to some suggestions on how to improve this?

Then I waited for a response. None would come.

These Guys – Whose Mission is to Try to Get Others to Pay Attention – Don’t Want to Hear It

I received no response.  Not a “no thanks.” Not a “we’ll be in touch.” Not even a “leave us alone.” The offer was ignored.

This is instructive on many levels.  For one, I do not blame them. Who am I to offer them some assistance? After all, it is the job of these gentlemen to persuade and convince. I’m some anonymous blogger out there trying to help people get along.  So I don’t blame them at all.

It’s okay.  I have no problem with it. These fellas are human.  I was hoping to help them but they don’t want to hear it. Which is where the difficulty of their task is shown. These guys have provided perhaps the perfect example of the issues that are facing them.

They do not want to hear my viewpoint, just like those who disagree do not want to hear their viewpoint. They are more interested in oratory than dialogue. Which, again, is fine in a limited sense and closed universe.

These are out there attempting to convince people of the dangers of climate change and of the need for action. They have a message that they want to communicate to other people. I will rephrase it: they want to convince other people of their viewpoint.  (Personal Note: I laud what they want to do.)

They want others to listen to them but themselves don’t want to listen to others. Why don’t they want input from someone else? Odds are it is the same exact reason that their message is unheard by so many. They don’t want to hear it, but mission is to be heard. Why aren’t people listening to them? They can look in a mirror and see the reason.

Communication is a two-way street. Education is a give and take.  If one does not want to accept feedback (or even aim communications at persuading or convincing those who presently disagree) then it is no more than preaching to the choir (which I have written about here: )

Don’t Give Help Where it Is Not Wanted

Anybody ever know a person who is just loaded with advice? We all know the type. Whatever situation you are in, that person will chime in with advice and tell you what you should do.

I am usually not interested in calling out people.  When I saw the tweet and read the linked content, it would have been easy to simply tweet, “The underlying content sucked. It was all opinion and spin and low on fact.” Criticism is easy. Enter my wife, who has taught me a few things about this subject.

Rather than impose advice on people, ask them whether they would be interested in some input. It makes for an instant icebreaker. First, it allows the person to be the recipient of the advice to decide whether he or she wants it. This empowers the recipient to decide, and empowerment is crucial.

Ramming advice or criticism down a person’s throat is usually counterproductive.  I could tell these guys all I wanted about how to reach a bigger audience and what the other side is looking for. But this would only build resentment. I understand that, so I will leave it at that.

These Guys are No Different from Anybody Else

Is there anybody out there who wants to listen to unsolicited advice?  The answer is no. When it comes down to it, people will hear what they want to hear and read what they want to read.  I don’t know what their target market is, but from reading what has been put out there the market would be aimed at what could be stereotyped as “climate alarmists.”

However, it has also been mentioned that they seek to educate and change people’s minds. Education is not provided by argument and rhetoric, though. Education needs facts. When facts are spun, or when opinions are presented as facts, people tend to get dismayed and ignore them. Unless, of course, these opinions match what they want to hear and validate their feelings.

I would also go so far as to say that education encourages critical thinking and to ask questions. This is to be expected. The educated person is not a robot.

How to Get the Opponent to Hear You Out

In my experience, nothing prepares a person to hear what I want to say more than letting that person go first.  In any successful organization, one sees that education and information go both ways. Even in the Army, the E-1 Private has thoughts and perceptions that are important for the leader to know. In order to educate that Private, the leader must pay heed to what that Private is saying.

Why? Because the Private is educating the leader on his thoughts, needs and perceptions. He is telling the leader what he knows and what he does not. While he may be telling the leader, “The OPFOR came through on the right, and I did not know what to do” he is educating the leader that nobody told him that the enemy were being funneled to his right and to expect first engagement from that direction.

This is because nobody is ever a master. We all are learners. The most effective teachers are the ones who are open to gauging the audience. An off-hand observation from a lay person may be a break someone is looking for – the outside the box thinker because she was never in the box to begin with.

The Audience for Persuasion is not Captive

The techniques of persuasion I mentioned above (Daniel Webster, Merchant of Venice) just are not applicable in most of the world. Both of those circumstances involved attempts to convince an impartial arbiter.

The other difference is that the greatest persuasive examples are found with a captive audience.  Judges and juries are there and don’t have anything else to do except view the evidence and listen to the persuasive arguments.

Others who want to be persuaded actually seek it out. Socrates was persuasive, but to his students. Timothy Leary was persuasive to those who seek out his message. Dr. Oz and his guests persuade those viewers who tune in, mainly because the viewership is an active market for those who peddle their wares and advice. They know who pays their bills and who their audience is.

What do they do? They tell people what they want to hear. Climate alarmists and deniers give their audiences all they can take of what they want to hear.  And in a sense, this is what I was hoping to inform these guys. Do you want to convince the convinced?  Or do you want to educate? An educated person is armed with critical thinking. Is that what you want?

It might not be. Because critical thinkers are well-prepared to disagree and point out flaws in logic, reasoning and evidence. When that happens, the master must become the student. And be educated on the thought processes he is up against.

Should the educator refuse input, then the person is not an “educator” but merely a “validator” or an enabler.  Again, there is nothing wrong with that. So long as the validator is up front about it.

So the question for the educator is this: If you don’t want to hear some feedback or suggestions from others, why do you think others want to hear it from you? You are an example of the roadblocks that you face. It’s time to assess those roadblocks.

These guys don’t want help?  That’s okay. I won’t give it. I am not about to engage in a flame war.  Not my style. But if anyone wants to google, “Why won’t climate deniers pay attention to what I am telling them” then this post will come up and anyone can read it.

Advice given to those who seek it.  And not forced on anyone.


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