To persuade people, should we emphasise common ground?
August 13, 2013 9:48 PM   Subscribe

I remember reading a few years back about a piece of research or a theory in social psychology. The research found that a speaker should emphasise common ground when trying to persuade their listeners to change their opinion. By contrast, if they stressed how much their opinions diverged, the listeners would actually move further away from speaker's ideas than they were before. In other words, a conciliatory tone might be better than a strident attack if we want to persuade people. Does this ring a bell with anyone?
posted by dontjumplarry to Human Relations (15 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: (It wasn't literally about spoken communication, but about persuasive communication in general).
posted by dontjumplarry at 9:49 PM on August 13, 2013

Sounds like Dale Carnegie to me
posted by Ideefixe at 9:57 PM on August 13, 2013

Not sure if this is what you're thinking of, but there's a great AskMetafilter comment along these lines (there are some other good answers there too, this is just the one I remember).
posted by unknowncommand at 10:06 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Getting Past No makes a number of points like that. It's by a co-founder of the Harvard Negotiation Project.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 10:14 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all.

Yeah I was wondering if it was actually based on any rigorous research or if it was more of a common sense principle from a self-help type book that may not actually hold true.
posted by dontjumplarry at 11:00 PM on August 13, 2013

I just got home a few minutes ago from hearing psychologist Daniel Kahneman (author of Thinking, Fast and Slow) speak and he touched on a related topic during his talk. While his specific points were more about how we humans decide what we believe is true (in a nutshell because we like or have faith in the messenger - I'm simplifying - there's obviously more to it than that) he also talked about the mechanics of forming (and changing) opinions, etc.

He may not be the author of the specific research you're thinking of - but there may something in his work that might be useful/of interest to you on this topic.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 11:04 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Before you decide on the worth of such general principles, I think you have to weigh the increasing diversity of society, and the rapidly growing complexity of communication. These days, it's really hard to craft even a simple message that will be universally understood, and reliably transmitted across all communication channels.

Even a master communicator like Oprah Winfrey is having problems making her point.
posted by paulsc at 11:27 PM on August 13, 2013

Best answer: I believe what you are looking for is Social Judgment Theory.

Attitude and Attitude Change was one of my favorite Psych classes in college. For even more fun, check out Cognitive Dissonance, my favorite theory of all-time, as it people do it so darn often they don't even know it.
posted by XhaustedProphet at 1:37 AM on August 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

That is founded upon real research, though for the life of me I can't remember the name of the effect (if there is one) or who did the research. Perhaps it was Cialdini, who is the 'father' of research on persuasion and influence? Or perhaps it is the counter-example to "attitude innoculation", whereby if you disagree first (at least a little), it will be more likely to lead to major disagreement later (as opposed to agreeing a little bit first).
posted by Halo in reverse at 1:39 AM on August 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

This reminds me of Getting to Yes, but its been a while since I've read it.
posted by travertina at 4:57 AM on August 14, 2013

You're going to want to read Influence by Robert Cialdini.

And, as always when the subject comes up, he's been to my house for dinner and he's AWESOME! (My Mom and I both went to ASU, he was her professor first.)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:37 AM on August 14, 2013

In my opinion, this is a fundamental of communications that has reached the "no citation needed" point. Several sources listed above obviously mention it; my mind immediately jumped to Paul's Sermon on Mars Hill - he starts by commending them (or at least pointing out) their religious nature, and builds as far as he can on common ground before bringing up the Big Difference of Opinion...

making this idea at least a couple thousand years old, give or take...
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:26 AM on August 14, 2013

This probably isn't the exact piece you're looking for, but you might be interested in reading the article, Cultural Cognition of Scientific Consensus (and the related Cultural Cognition Project). The implications of this research point to the type of approach you describe, especially as it relates to public policymaking.
posted by a.steele at 8:36 AM on August 14, 2013

Related: Rogerian Argument
posted by Z. Aurelius Fraught at 9:42 AM on August 14, 2013

i think it depends on what you mean by "common ground."

you could argue that you should accept their assumptions, but then add some new fact or way of thinking, and that might persuade them. but i think this is a naive view.

the more "common ground" approach is to try to get at their motivations and then take that as a starting point. you can then debase one of their assumptions, and once you do that they will be more receptive to alternative arguments.
posted by cupcake1337 at 10:53 PM on August 14, 2013

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