Michael Sturrock: 5 tools of persuasion you can use to bring people from #NoToYes

We all know the coming months to the next independence vote are going to be the most crucial for winning independence. This means these months are the most crucial for bring as many people round to the vision of an independent Scotland as possible. We need to have as many conversations and positive interactions with No and undecided voters as we possibly can if we are to success.

But if you are speaking to a No or undecided voter, and want them to see your point of view, nothing is going to put them off more than a heated and petty argument, or a feeling that their concerns aren’t being listened too.

So how should we engage in conversation in a respectful way, and have the best chance of persuading others that independence is the right path for Scotland? Here are 5 things you can do to be more persuasive:

  1. Listen. No, really listen.

It’s far too easy to go into a conversation with an agenda. Especially when we’re talking with those we think oppose our beliefs about any political, moral or even trivial issues. When we have an agenda, we can’t help but try and argue back at any and all opportunity, especially when we know there are so many benefits and positives to shout about with independence.

But if we don’t actually hear what others are saying – if we won’t know exactly what they have concerns about – we won’t be able to provide the right information that could persuade them of our view.

We all are guilty of using a common or simple argument to hide our deeper or more complex concerns – so if others are doing the same, often we will need to dig deeper into a subject to find the real issue or concern. To best be able to persuade people, we have to discuss what is really important to them. And for that we have to listen with intent.

In practical terms, this means letting a person speak until they are finished. Asking questions can be a good way of narrowing down on a particular point, but this is different to firing back with what we think is the ‘zinger’ that defeats their point in our own minds.

2. Try and understand a person’s position and be able to present it in a way that they would think it is fair.

To build on point one, it isn’t good enough to listen. The other person has to know that they have been listened to. As noted, asking questions shows we are engaged in what they are talking about, and allows that person to address a counter point without it being presented as an attack on their argument.

A hugely effective way to show someone they have been listened to is to repeat their argument back to them in a way they would think is fair. It’s too easy to take a component of someone’s argument, inflate or hyperbolise their meaning to try and make it look ridiculous (this usually takes the form of putting on an incredulous face and beginning a sentence with “Oh, so you really think that…” and then going on to characterise their argument in its least flattering light).

Unsurprisingly, this is not very endearing or effective.

Repeating a person’s argument back to them in a way they think was fair shows that you have listened and judged them fairly on what they have had to say. Believe it or not, it might even make you think that they have a point about one thing or another…

3. Accept the fact that you don’t have all the answers.

The topic of independence is vast and complex. It covers social, political, cultural and economic issues, as well as any other things important to someone from an individual perspective. Unless you have vast knowledge in all the above and a person’s deeply held beliefs, you are not going to have all the answers.

And you shouldn’t feel bad about that.

In fact, you can turn this is into a positive. One of the central pillars of independence is the fact it is a collective endeavour. This means we have to work together in finding out the best way forward. So, if you don’t know something, it is an opportunity to work with someone to find out what the answer is (often there will be more than one answer!).

4. Accept the fact that you can’t be right all the time.

Given what we’ve said about independence being vast and complex, not only is it ok not to know everything, it is ok to be wrong about something. Not only is it ok, but we should actively allow for the possibility that we might be wrong about a particular fact, figure or way forward.

Of course, we should strive to be as accurate and knowledgeable as possible. However, the fact of the matter is, while our fundamental aim and belief in independence holds true, a huge range of issues contain moving parts that we can’t keep track of all the time.

We need to recognise that sometimes this means our arguments can become outdated, or new issues have arisen which changes the way we should look at things.

Yes voters are often painted as blindly marching towards independence without acknowledging situational change. Engaging in conversation in a way that accepts the changing nature of the political and economic reality is a clear way to show undecideds and No voters that we aren’t oblivious to this fact, and are confident that, in spite of this moving picture, our convictions can weather the winds of change.

But, the main reason that we should not try to be right all the time is that winning round No voters and undecideds means they will have to admit things have changed and that new issues that have arisen which have changed their mind.

We cannot expect that of others without being prepared to do so ourselves.

5. Don’t try and ‘win’ the argument.

As I said above, independence has to be a collective endeavour. All the issues won’t be solved by a single conversation. All No voters and undecideds won’t be convinced by a single interaction. The conversations and positive interactions have to keep happening from now to the next independence vote; and then beyond that as we make decisions about the future of Scotland.

There is no argument to win – so don’t try to win it. There is only progress to be made.

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