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In his New York Times column, David Brooks asks – how do we really persuade other people to accept our point of view?

It’s seldom through reason, logic or facts.

Brooks champions a new book by Alan Jacobs, a cultural critic and literature professor at Baylor University. In How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds, Jacob argues that we’re not as good at this as we.. ahem.. think.

He says people are profoundly influenced by the ideas sanctioned within their social circle – a school, company or society with a collective set of values. We rally around our tribe, or huddle within it. C.S. Lewis called it “the Inner Ring.”

“The real way to persuade people is to create an attractive community that people want to join,” Brooks says. “If you do that, they’ll bend their opinions to yours. If you want people to be reasonable, create groups where it’s cool to be reasonable.”

Jacobs’ book is timely, appearing just as visionary behavioral economist Richard Thaler wins the Nobel Prize in economics for his work that shows human beings are not nearly as rational as they like to think they are.

So how can communicators use these insights to be persuasive?

We can create that feeling of community with the the tools of communication. Appeal to the audience’s collective impulses. Use language that reinforces the feeling of “we.” Not “us versus them” divisive, but affiliative.

We are in this together. We share. We value. We benefit.

Create a force field of identification and interest, and make points that benefit the common good.

As much as we might like to think otherwise, when the goal is to move hearts and minds, thinking isn’t up to the task. It’s all about feeling.

 

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