changingminds.org

How we change what others think, feel, believe and do

| Menu | Quick | Books | Share | Search | Settings |

The Caveat

 

The ethical debate | The academic debate | The betrayal response | So what?

 

So here we are, with a site stuffed full of things about how to persuade people, which, after all, is what 'changing minds' is. It would seem likely that some people may be feeling a little cautious about this (or maybe even a little outraged). This page is thus the 'caveat' that seeks to address some of these concerns -- at least as far as one can without a face-to-face discussion.

The ethical debate

Is persuasion a loaded gun?

The question of whether we should tell people how to persuade others is something that could well raise some ethical hackles. Put simply, there is an argument that goes something like this:

If you give someone a gun, they will kill people. Therefore, you should not teach people to persuade.

Although this is 'non sequitur' there is a degree of truth about it. So should you not teach persuasion? This depends to some extent on your beliefs about people. If you believe we are all simply selfish and will use persuasion to harm others, then you will quite naturally consider teaching persuasion to be unethical.

The problem is, we all have guns. Or at least we all have the ability to persuade. Some of us are more refined about it and many of us do a good imitation of a bull in a china shop. The unskilled person who persuades by shouting and other forms of coercion can do far more lasting damage than the person who persuades more subtly.

Is persuasion bad?

The arguments above all seem to assume that persuasion is a bad thing. They assume persuasion is akin to violence. However, there are countless occasions where changing another person's mind is a very good thing. In fact good persuasion can avoid violence, including psychological violence. Consider a parent who persuades their children. Or a policeman who avoids an incident with an angry mob. In fact changing minds is at the core of many valuable jobs.

The real difference is intent. Most intent is positive, or at least neutral. We believe that when we seek to change the mind of another person, we very seldom intend to do them any harm. And in fact if we are unskilled at persuasion, we are more likely to harm them than if we are skilled.

Despite some opinions to the contrary, even sales people largely work by seeking to enhance the lives of their customers. If we care about the other person, then this will guide our hands in persuasion. If we do not care or hate them, then persuasion might be used to cause harm. On balance, we believe that the balance for the good far outweighs the potential harm, and hence we continue the work here.

A second benefit of learning about persuasion is that you also quickly learn to identify situations where others are trying to persuade you. It may not a bad thing to be persuaded, but with this knowledge, you can engage in intelligent decision-making rather than unthinking reaction.

While I do try to get as much as possible right, there are no guarantees about the truth of anything written here in this website. If you want the truth, the best place to seek this is in peer-reviewed academic journals, although academics still differ in their views and regularly challenge one another about methods, data, conclusions and so on.

To some extent the site is a record of my studies, and I have done several post-graduate and many industrial qualifications and courses, and continue to read both practitioner and academic works. I might even disagree with myself as things I wrote years ago I may not agree with now.

In the end, the only truth is your own. If something sounds right, then it can be your truth until you hear something better. If you try things out in the real world, then those that work for you will also be your truths. Even those that do not work you may say are ineffective, although maybe they just did not work for you, this time.

Stick to your values when persuading. You'll feel better for it. And know that not everyone has the same values as you.

The nature of humanity

We are naturally a deceitful species. Evolution has done this for us: if you can deceive another person or a prey into certain actions then you may succeed and avoid physical harm at the same time.

It has even been suggested that our big brains evolved in a race between the ability to deceive and the ability to detect deception. Because we are both. Everyone cheats, mostly in small ways, from taking pencils home from the office to exceeding the speed limit. And also we are surprisingly good at reading body language and noticing small nuances in how people speak.

Persuasion can be viewed as a game where the persuader tries to get around the defending walls of a suspicious listener. Yet true persuasion requires the other person to listen and think carefully.

If you can understand your own humanity and that of other people, then you will be in a better position to decide how to use persuasive methods, perhaps even more ethically, than if you just follow your natural nose.

The academic debate

There is a tradition in academia of challenge, and even distinguished professors will happily rubbish one another's theories. So what chance this site, especially when we seek to build some kind of academic foundation?

Hands up, we are not pretending cover all the bases and of course we could not approach building full Ph.D. rigor into every page. But at least we making an effort -- certainly far, far more than many other sites and writers who make broad assertions without any references at all.

The argument goes both ways, and some might say that simple assertions would be enough. Although we accept that this is just fine for many people, we prefer to seek a different balance point. We do know that you can't make everyone happy, and that's ok. In fact if you want to argue about anything here we might even feel a sense of satisfaction as you are now thinking further about the subject, which of course is what it is largely about.

While I do try to get as much as possible right, there are no guarantees about the truth of anything written here in this website. If you want the truth, the best place to seek this is in peer-reviewed academic journals, although academics still differ in their views and regularly challenge one another about methods, data, conclusions and so on.

To some extent the site is a record of my studies, and I have done several post-graduate and many industrial qualifications and courses, and continue to read both practitioner and academic works. I might even disagree with myself as things I wrote years ago I may not agree with now.

In the end, the only truth is your own. If something sounds right, then it can be your truth until you hear something better. If you try things out in the real world, then those that work for you will also be your truths. Even those that do not work you may say are ineffective, although maybe they just did not work for you, this time.

Don't automatically believe anything you read on the web. But do consider it and do try stuff to find what works for you. 

The betrayal response

It has been said that friends come and go, but enemies accumulate. This can be seen in such circumstances as governments, where Machiavellian leaders end up being deposed by those they have hurt. Margaret Thatcher did this in the UK in the 1980s. She had very clear beliefs about what needed to be done, and arguably did the country a lot of good (let's not get into that debate), but in doing so she caused betrayal responses in other people who had their own way of getting their own back -- such as Sir Geoffrey Howe's elegant and incisive 'broken cricket bat' speech that was the beginning of the end of her reign (in which she used the 'royal we' more than once!).

Those who live by the gun, die by the gun. Many wise sayings point in the same direction. If you seek to harm others, then you will eventually reap what you sow. Being skilled at persuasion and using it selfishly is thus likely only to accelerate your demise. If people are harmed by your words, even though they may be persuaded at the time, they will later reflect and seek justice.

There is also a self-response. We all have multiple internal personalities, and if you harm others then your internal conscience will punish you. Many despots and murderers lead miserable, self-recriminating lives as their inner selves remind them every day of what they have done.

While I do try to get as much as possible right, there are no guarantees about the truth of anything written here in this website. If you want the truth, the best place to seek this is in peer-reviewed academic journals, although academics still differ in their views and regularly challenge one another about methods, data, conclusions and so on.

In the end, the only truth is your own. If something sounds right, then it can be your truth until you hear something better. If you try things out in the real world, then those that work for you will also be your truths. Even those that do not work you may say are ineffective, although maybe they just did not work for you, this time.

You reap what you sow. If you hurt others, then at some point you will likely be hurt yourself. Beware the betrayed as their just anger can lead them to extremes.  

So what?

So the bottom line of any persuasion is a kind of 'caveat emptor' (or maybe a 'caveat persuader'): If you use persuasion selfishly, seeking to harm others or even passively allowing them to be harmed, then although you gain now, in the end you know you will suffer for your unkindness.

The reverse is also true: with good intent (as we believe most people have), increasing your skills at changing the minds of others will bring greater good to the world.

We also know that those who would persuade unethically will find a way, whatever. This site can help you see through their games and avoid being duped.

And...

And of course please be aware: this is the web. Do not assume the content of this website is the definitive source of knowledge on what is written here. It is the fruit of wide research, but any page on this website is only as accurate as the author could discover at the time of writing. No guarantees are given as to veracity of anything. Just goodwill and best understanding.

See also

Trust, Effects of betrayal, Values, Morals and Ethics, Deciding to Persuade

 

Site Menu

| Home | Top | Quick Links | Settings |

| Disciplines | Techniques | Principles | Explanations | Theories |

| Blog! | Quotes | Guest articles | Analysis | Books | Links | Help |

| Contact | Caveat | About | Students | Webmasters | Awards | Guestbook | Feedback | Sitemap | Changes |

| Settings: | Computer layout | Mobile layout | Small font | Medium font | Large font |

 

You can buy books here

More Kindle books:

And the big
paperback book


Look inside

 

Please help and share:

 

Quick links

Disciplines

* Argument
Brand management
* Change Management
Coaching
+ Communication
Counseling
+ Game Design
+ Human Resources
+ Job-finding
* Leadership
+ Marketing
Politics
+ Propaganda
+ Rhetoric
* Negotiation
* Psychoanalysis
* Sales
Sociology
+ Storytelling
+ Teaching
* Warfare
Workplace design

Techniques

+ Assertiveness
* Body language
* Change techniques
* Closing techniques
+ Conversation
Confidence tricks
* Conversion
* Creative techniques
* General techniques
+ Happiness
+ Hypnotism
+ Interrogation
* Language
+ Listening
* Negotiation tactics
* Objection handling
+ Propaganda
* Problem-solving
* Public speaking
+ Questioning
+ Using repetition
* Resisting persuasion
+ Self-development
+ Sequential requests
Stress Management
* Tipping
Using humor
* Willpower

Principles

+ Principles

Explanations

* Behaviors
+ Beliefs
* Brain stuff
Conditioning
+ Coping Mechanisms
+ Critical Theory
+ Culture
+ Decisions
* Emotions
+ Evolution
Gender
+ Games
Groups
+ Identity
+ Learning
+ Meaning
Memory
+ Motivation
+ Models
* Needs
+ Personality
+ Power
* Preferences
+ Research
+ Relationships
+ SIFT Model
+ Social Research
Stress
+ Trust
+ Values

Theories

* Alphabetic list
* Theory types

And

- About
- Guest Articles
- Blog!
- Books
- Changes
- Contact
- Guestbook
- Links
- Quotes
- Students
- Webmasters

 

| Home | Top | Menu | Quick Links |

Changing Minds 2002-2014
Massive Content -- Maximum Speed