Have you ever been in an argument, not a debate–an argument where both parties are looking to win, to defeat the other where a prevailing feeling of disdain and loathing pervades the air? Did you think of the perfect analogy to describe the situation, illustrating why you are right, they are wrong, and how obvious it would be if the person was not a staggering dolt?
If you have an IQ over 105 and are even marginally disagreeable, then you have probably been in such a situation at least once. Now, there is a peculiar thing about such a scenario that you may have noticed. It doesn’t matter how good your analogy is. Your opponent will not accept it. They will not see it as correct or illustrative. They will tell you it is ill-formed, inaccurate. If you are right, the more powerful your analogy–the more vigorously your opponent will resist it.
Why Persuasion is Hard
Persuasion is hard because you are not just trying to get good information into a mind that could use it. You are also trying to overcome the resistance that mind has to the information.
The example of analogies is the perfect introduction to this important lesson. Analogies are no good for persuasion, but they’re great for clarification. If you’re addressing an audience that is already on your side, who wants what you’re selling, who is trying to learn what you know, then analogies are perfect. If you’re in a debate and hold no hope of converting your opponent, but are more interested in appealing to whoever might be listening, an analogy can help you to leverage any solidarity that may exist.
The cold hard truth is, most people are less interested in facts than they are in a set of ephemeral apprehensions about their group, status, and vague perceptions about their well being. As a matter of shorthand, we will call these their “Feelz.”
You must look at the feelz of the party you wish to persuade as if it was an angry stray cat which you wish to clean up and take home. You can stand there and say “puss, puss, puss” all dang day and all it will hear is “grr, grr, grr.”
It is necessary to tame the Feelz Beast before persuasion can become a possibility.
Tame the Feelz Beast
Persuasion is not about telling the truth. It’s about getting your way. Now, it could be the case that imparting the truth is your goal–such as when you aim to instruct your children or advise a friend. But persuasion is only about getting your way by getting a person to believe they will benefit by accepting your claims.
Now, consider this. You could tell someone a thing that is true, and persuade him–but still do him harm, or sell him a bridge. It may be a fine bridge. It may even be the finest bridge.
A more universal analogy might look something like a Mad Max scenario. Suppose you are the member of a group of survivors in the wasteland. You spy a lone wanderer walking outside your camp. You see that the person needs help and you invite her into your camp. You could make the most compelling argument conceivable, but if you cannot tame the feelz beast, she is likely to assume that yours is one of many groups of cannibals she’s heard about.
The nature of that scenario gains its power from our evolution as a tribal species. It is the origin of the Feelz Beast.
To tame the beast you must do three things;
1. Use Repetition. Think about why we like music. We like it because it strikes a balance between familiarity and novelty to evoke a feeling of meaning in a format that our limbic brain responds to the way your shoulders respond to massage. Use the simplest and most repetitive language you can without insulting the intelligence of your audience. In this composition, you may have noticed, I’m using the term Feelz Beast and the concept of analogies to create a stable motif.
2. Present a Friendly Context. Create and adhere to a personalized set of scenarios with the common theme of benefit to your audience. Talk about their needs, wants, and problems. Then present solutions. Your goal here is not to inform them about a pain point–they know what their pain points are. What they want to hear that you understand their pain points without them even having to tell you what they are. They want is a solution that serves them without triggering their insecurities.
You may have noticed clothing salespeople do not run up to mildly overweight customers and show them girdles in a loud voice. That’s an unfriendly context.
3. Use a Range of Analogies. If you’re being successful, you will have shifted your audience from a position of guardedness to unguardedness. They should be relaxed enough to see you as friendly, as a member of a common tribe. You have your arm around their shoulder and you’re walking them into your camp to meet the other survivors. The Feelz Beast is calm, purring.
This is the point where analogies will be successful. This is where telling them a range of stories and cases in point will lock in their new acceptance of your premise.
The task of persuasion is about setting up a new belief system in your audience. To get in the door, you must first defuse their defenses. Just look at the state of politics these days. It’s a jungle full of feelz beasts–and no one is changing minds outside their own camps. Don’t repeat those rookie mistakes.
DL M has 21 years of professional writing for print and online media and has 10+ years experience as a freelance fiction editor. He’s a content creator for major corporations covering all topics for a wide range of industries, specializing in white papers, research, news content. His specialty subjects include: current events, marketing, analytics, personal development, leveraging social media, SEO, business development, cloud computing, language, and politics.