Defensiveness – Soften people’s resistance by confirming their self-opinion. August 22, 2023 by Riston Human beings have a natural tendency to develop a defensive aspect to their personality. It is overall a necessary and healthy thing to be inclined to resist aggression and coercion. Sometimes, though, this defensive trait can become excessive when people refuse to accept fair criticism or become overly rigid and judgemental. Often, we neglect to understand this phenomena appropriately in our dealings with others. Most people know that a direct confrontation or attack is likely to inflame their target’s defensiveness, but few seem to apply this knowledge in their daily interactions. As a result, most people are completely inept at the art of persuasion by virtue of neglecting this one fact. We innately ‘know’ this to be true, since falling in love or a night out with friends allows us the opportunity to let go of some of our defenses, but in less amicable settings we forget this and refuse to facilitate a feeling of validation in others. Creating this feeling of validation is key to unlocking other people’s defenses, specifically validating the key principles of self-opinion that people value highest. The following are the three primary keys to a person’s sense of self-worth: Autonomy – whether they are acting autonomously or not – maybe they are propagandized or outright brainwashed – most people want to believe that they are independent thinkers. Rather than calling them sheep or some other derogatory name, it’s better to affirm their sense of independence while gently guiding them to a higher realization. Intelligence – Even stupid people believe they are intelligent, and making people feel stupid is an effectively useless way to make them accept your point of view. It is often that one falls into the argumentation fallacy “winning the argument, but losing the arguer”. There are times where fleecing a stupid person can make a point in public forums, but more often it just incites their defenses and breeds contempt. Goodness – Most people believe they are, at heart, decent and good people. Insulting a person’s character isn’t a great strategy for persuading them to adopt a different mindset, but normally only ends up forcing them to become more entrenched with their original position. Five Strategies for Becoming a Master Persuader Transform yourself into a deep listener – One of the first and most important strategies for persuasion is actually understanding the other’s motives and ends (this was the crux of Harry Browne’s book How to Sell Anything). We know our own motives and internal dialogue, but by allowing the other person to talk and using a more Socratic approach you can cooperatively work with them on their own terms. You facilitate a situation where they feel more witty, and they will view you as the expert conversationalist. This also gives you the opportunity to tailor your statements and responses in terms of their value system. Infect people with the proper mood – Use non-verbal communication and ambience to create a feeling of pleasurable anticipation, camaraderie, enthusiasm, and rapport. This will enable a more congenial social atmosphere where the other, and both parties are more receptive. Confirm their self-opinion – The goal here is to reinforce the three basic keys to a person’s self-worth mentioned above. By doing so, you weaken their resistance by not feeling personally attacked or denigrated. Allay people’s insecurities – Almost everyone is insecure about some facet of their lives. Powerful, Machiavellian types are often insecure about their moral qualities and quite often this self-opinion is rooted in objective reality. To be effective in this situation, best not to either call them out or try to praise their goodness (you’ll obviously appear insincere or completely foolish), but to utilize more strategic flattery respecting how they may have in some way positively impacted your life, or some specific thing they’ve accomplished. Use people’s resistance and stubbornness – Sometimes you will need to persuade a person who is especially resistance to influence. In these cases the challenge resolves into a game of mental judo (or Jedi mind tricks). The idea is to encourage this aggressiveness and re-channel it to a more productive effect. Use their emotions – the idea here is not to directly oppose their emotions, but instead to redirect these emotions in a more productive direction. Use their language – Using people’s words back at them has a very hypnotic effect, how can they fight you when you are simply rephrasing what they themselves have said? Use their rigidity – Often, people’s sense of rigidity stems from a fear of change and the uncertainty it brings. You can either work with their general nature, or exercise a form of reverse psychology. The Flexible Mind – Self-strategies The ideal predisposition of the mind is to retain the openness and flexibility powers of the child, while cultivating and exercising the reasoning powers of the adult. We should constantly examine and re-examine our beliefs, in order to ensure that we are not merely regurgitating conventional wisdom. Thus Socrates’ maxim – “the unexamined life is not worth living”. Ideas and knowledge should be view, in many respects, as playthings of the mind, and building blocks to be toyed with, kept, and often discarded. The concept of “the soul of the thing”, as promoted by Nietzsche, can also help one be more flexible in their relationship to ideas. Sometimes while reading thoughts from one whose ideas are in opposition to yours, you can parse out points that ring as strongly true, and that can help you develop a stronger understanding of the “soul of a thing”, the matter discussed and possibly your own ideas. Sometimes too we can become overly rigid with respect to our own rules, and in order to assert our freedom and maintain flexibility we sometimes need to even break those. Many of the same concepts also apply to our sense of self-opinion, and we shouldn’t fall into the trap of taking ourselves too seriously.