The Core of Persuasion

Harvard Law School's CyberOneDuring the fall of 2006 Harvard Law School provided podcasts, videocasts, and other means for anyone to participate in its Law in the Court of Public Opinion Course (better known as CyberOne). The course covers “many different media technologies to understand how their inherent characteristics and modes of distribution affect the arguments that are made using them.”

I began listening to CyberOne podcasts late in the semester and now I’m listening/watching each class starting with the first. Its loaded with excellent information and you don’t need to be a lawyer or law student to understand the information provided.

Today I was listening to class number five (9/25/06) [audio, video, wiki page]. At about 36:20 on the audio version Professor Nesson makes some interesting points about empathic advocacy/argument. He stated, as paraphrased from Rebecca Nesson’s notes:

If you are going to persuade someone you need to change their interpretive stance. You need to reach them emotionally. You need to convince them that you understand what the world looks like from their point of view.

As paraphrased from Jordan’s notes:

Changing your point of view is at least in part an emotional experience. You can only persuade someone if you persuade them that you understand what the world looks like from the viewpoint they already have.

The last sentence struck a chord with me. A few years back I decided to make a conscious effort to understand the foundations and reasons taken by those with views in opposition to my own. It is an effort to check myself to see if I’m wrong about a particular issue. The result is the ability to recognize the core of the other person’s view, to address that foundation, and communicate (empathic) reasoning that is more likely to be persuading. Understanding the other person’s worldview is not only effective in persuasion but is helpful in uncovering truth and obtaining a just result.