August 22, 2016

"Being a good persuader is like having a magic power. There is an ethical consideration, of course."

"You don’t want to persuade people to do things that are not in their best interest. And it might feel creepy and manipulative if you find yourself too skilled at persuasion. I’ve learned so much on the topic of persuasion that I intentionally dial it back when I feel like I’m in a stick fight with someone who has no stick. I’m sometimes happier not getting my way than I would be if I felt manipulative. It’s a powerful skill that should be used judiciously."

From Scott Adams, "How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life" (p. 134).

That resonated with me. Not because I think I'm that highly skilled at persuasion (though I have had some unsettling experiences of convincing people of things when I didn't even mean to). But because I choose not to persuade. It's not something I like to do to people and it's not how I want to use my verbal skills, whatever they are. You might say: But, Althouse, you are a lawyer. I was a lawyer for about 18 months more than 30 years ago. I'm not interested. My idea of being a law professor doesn't involve convincing anyone of anything, and the same goes for blogging. I'm not even trying to stop men from wearing shorts.

34 comments:

Todd said...

I’ve learned so much on the topic of persuasion that I intentionally dial it back when I feel like I’m in a stick fight with someone who has no stick.

LOL. The guy is a comic strip writer after all...

Achilles said...

There is always a choice. None of the above is always one of the choices. Picking your battles is a common turn of phrase.

Which battles one chooses to fight is just as important a piece in defining a person as which sides they choose.

traditionalguy said...

Scott is a gentleman with a hypnotist' ethics. Bravo!

But when you are attacked, the ethics go are irrelevant.

That Jesus guy talked a big game about loving your enemy and turning your unslapped cheek. But I read what they did to him.

mockturtle said...

It amuses and irritates me to hear white leftists telling black voters how they should vote. It's the old, "We know better than you what's good for you". Unfortunately, they have been very persuasive over the years.

My daughter sent me an editorial piece from The Atlantic where James Fallows does just that and is called out by a black Trump supporter. Of course, Fallows rebuts.

Mark said...

One thing this Adams guy has failed to persuade me is that he is all that persuasive or skilled, weasel-tastic or otherwise. But he has certainly persuaded himself that he is all that.

John Tuffnell said...

I'm not even trying to stop men from wearing shorts.

If you were trying, I suspect this would be in the unsuccessful column on the table of persuasion.

Pennie Marchetti said...

One thing this Adams guy has failed to persuade me is that he is all that persuasive or skilled, weasel-tastic or otherwise. But he has certainly persuaded himself that he is all that.

He persuaded someone to syndicate a poorly drawn comic strip.

Todd said...

Blogger Pennie Marchetti said...
One thing this Adams guy has failed to persuade me is that he is all that persuasive or skilled, weasel-tastic or otherwise. But he has certainly persuaded himself that he is all that.

He persuaded someone to syndicate a poorly drawn comic strip.

8/22/16, 2:40 PM


That may be so but if Doonesbury can still manage to get published, as unfunny as it is, there is room for Dilbert...

steve uhr said...

Ann - you choose not to persuade yourself into believing that you persuade others. Every time you voice an opinion with supporting facts and argument you are engaged in persuading others whether you want to or not.

mockturtle said...

Some of the old Doonesbury cartoons were funny. Few of Adams' are. IMO, neither can hold a candle to Gary Larson's The Far Side.

Nonapod said...

Nice #humblebrag on Scott Adam's part. I can see how it can be creepy to be super good at convincing people of stuff. With great power comes great responsibility, and the human capacity for indulgence pretty much ensures that power will be abused. People like David Koresh and Charles Manson were pretty good persuaders on a smaller scale at least.

eric said...

I found, over a year ago, that I could be incredibly persuasive in an arena filled with simpletons as my competitors. In other words, when I looked like the best option, merely because all of the other options were so terrible, I gained a persuadable audience.

Maybe in persuasion, audience is key.

For example, selling bottled water in the desert of Africa might not require much in the way of persuasion but lead you to believe you are quite good at selling bottled water.

traditionalguy said...

Ah ha. "Not even stopping men from wearing shorts " sounds like reverse psychology as taught by Adams. He says when he approaches a negative person telling him that he will surely say no to any plan Scott want, and he always gets back
a "wait a minute here, something can
Be done..."

Bill Peschel said...

Personally, I would have preferred seeing an example of what he's talking about. Fortunately, my local library has a copy so I'll put it on hold.

Even if you think you've convinced someone that you're right, it ain't necessarily so. People have tried to convince me they're right and depending on my mood, I'm perfectly amiable with letting them believe so, if only so they'll leave me along.

There's also the possibility that later I'll reflect on the discussion and realize that I was right after all, because I'll remember a point that wasn't answered or was never brought up in the first place.

I won't rag on the quality of Adams' strip, because I like it. There have been a few strips in which all three panels made me bust out laughing. I liked how he broke down humor into six areas (clever, cute, bizarre, naught, cruel and recognizable) and that if you get four out of the six, you probably have a good joke / comic strip / story.

He also wrote that he had a goal of doing two really funny strips out of the week's work. That not Far Side / Calvin & Hobbes level work, but it's far ahead of 6 Chix and that dreadful Reply All.

Char Char Binks said...

Donald Trump has persuaded at least 51% of the population that they should never vote for him.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Ann Althouse said...My idea of being a law professor doesn't involve convincing anyone of anything, and the same goes for blogging.

I don't really believe that...I'm not convinced.
You're not trying to convince your students to approach problems or legal questions in a certain way? You're doing SOMETHING as law prof. Even in blogging you have a point of view and are sharing that with the world--you blog the things you find interesting and even just that is an implicit argument.

In my mind I hold a distinction btw sales and persuasion. I don't like trying to sell someone something but I usually don't mind trying to persuade someone of something in business...I tell myself the persuasion isn't really sales, just presenting my own analysis and synthesis (and, of course, that's usually brilliant and insightful).

Adams, of course, would assert that none of us are rational anyway...so our own beliefs about our actions are likely to be wrong, so even more must our beliefs about our internal calculations/mental states be incorrect. I dislike that argument, but in many situations that worldview seems to have pretty strong explanatory power.

Ann Althouse said...

"Ann - you choose not to persuade yourself into believing that you persuade others. Every time you voice an opinion with supporting facts and argument you are engaged in persuading others whether you want to or not."

1. I'll avoid getting distracted by what the meaning of persuade is, but I wouldn't use it to refer to one's own beliefs, arrived at simply by thinking and coming to have an idea or not. Maybe sometimes you feel that your mind has 2 parts and one is trying to convince the other to do something, but that's just a thought process. You're only one person. At least I am.

2. I'm saying that I don't like the activity of trying to get people to think something. I don't write here (or teach my class or write elsewhere) with the aim of making other people think a particular thing. It's not how I live. It's not what I do.

3. As I say in the post, I know I influence people by just saying what I think, but that's a collateral effect, not what I am trying to do, and in fact, there are times when I don't really want them taking what I say as something to be accepted and followed uncritically. I'm usually just trying to be part of a process of examining or playing with ideas. I'm into conversation, not arguing or debating.

4. It may be that my approach is actually effective persuasion for psychological reasons because people don't like to be told what to do. We like to arrive at our own ideas and to be free and independent. That's my view of humanity and the only people I think I'm talking to are people like that.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Ann Althouse said...I don't write here (or teach my class or write elsewhere) with the aim of making other people think a particular thing

I mean, I think I know what you're saying, but it's weird to assert that your aim in writing something is not to make someone think a particular thing. When you write or say a word you put that idea/concept in someone else's mind--that's the function of communication. When you use the word "people" you make those who read it think of (their idea) what is meant by that word. If you want to be understood you have to make people think particular things.

Again, I know that's extremely literal, but that same understanding extends to the larger discussion regarding what does and doesn't count as persuasion.

EDH said...

“A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.”

- Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back

Rick said...

I'm not even trying to stop men from wearing shorts.

Convincing people you aren't trying to persuade them increases your persuasiveness. Of course you know this, I just don't want people to think your readers don't.

Ann Althouse said...

"Ah ha. "Not even stopping men from wearing shorts " sounds like reverse psychology as taught by Adams. He says when he approaches a negative person telling him that he will surely say no to any plan Scott want, and he always gets back
a "wait a minute here, something can Be done...""

I started out just trying to convey the information that a grown man in shorts — especially an older man or an unfit man, especially if he's wearing an oversized shirt untucked with big shorts — looks like an enlarged toddler and that's not — and shouldn't be — sexually attractive.

You can do what you like with that information. Maybe your goal is to masquerade as a giant 3 year old. Maybe you don't want ladies to think of you as someone she could be attracted to.

But I see people on other websites talking about me — comments like "Don't tell Ann Althouse" if there's a man in shorts — and I'm weirded out to think there are men — how many?! — who think of me when putting on their pants. What would Ann Althouse want?

I didn't set out to do that.

Beldar said...

This is the most embarrassing crush in the history of your blog, Prof. Althouse.

It's not becoming to you.

n.n said...

Most women look good in dresses. Some men look good in shorts. It's not a class issue. Nature has discriminating tastes that are inherited by her children.

eric said...

My wife loves it when I wear shorts, because she knows other women won't be attracted to me.

On the other hand, my very stylish 15 year old daughter is generally appalled.

Stoutcat said...

"You don’t want to persuade people to do things that are not in their best interest."

And of course, YOU are the one who gets to decide exactly what is in people's best interest and persuade them accordingly.

FullMoon said...

Mark said... [hush]​[hide comment]

One thing this Adams guy has failed to persuade me is that he is all that persuasive or skilled, weasel-tastic or otherwise. But he has certainly persuaded himself that he is all that.


Whenever someone tells me what a racist, sexist jerk Limbaugh is, I ask if they have listened to him.
They always say yes/ Then, I ask a couple of easy questions, like, when do you listen, because he is on while you are at work, and, who is Snerdly. Easy to embarrass them for lying. Sometimes, for fun, I will tell them Rush has several children with his black wife, who he has been married to for thirty years.

Anyway, Mark, have you actually read Scott Adams blog and his book?

Char Char Binks said...

Althouse has persuaded me to use the word "garner" every chance I garner.

Ann Althouse said...

"I mean, I think I know what you're saying, but it's weird to assert that your aim in writing something is not to make someone think a particular thing. When you write or say a word you put that idea/concept in someone else's mind--that's the function of communication. When you use the word "people" you make those who read it think of (their idea) what is meant by that word. If you want to be understood you have to make people think particular things."

There's a big difference between being understood and being agreed with.

traditionalguy said...

God created us as social creatures. He likes good conversations, even in other tongues. So male and female he made them.

Human speech is a teacher-learner relationship...and the only speech Rule at Althouse Blog has been ,Thou shall not be boring.

Seriously, Althouse is such a good teacher that she can change minds with no pain or suffering. You just wake up with new views. All my shorts are gone to Goodwill. And all my learned negative thoughts about Gay people totally disappeared within a few years.

Damn good teacher!

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Ann Althouse said...There's a big difference between being understood and being agreed with.

Is there? What if we don't agree on what the word "big" or "difference" means? Do we understand each other if we don't agree on terms, or grammar, or syntax?

Might not one say that some level of agreement is necessary for communication..and that therefore some agreement is required any time you want to be understood?

[Adams certainly argues that the inverse is not true--he says you don't have to be understood in order to persuade.]

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Even the desire to be understood presumes some agreement on the part of your intended audience (the target you wish to have understanding)--by trying to be understood you're asserting that the other party should agree that communication is worth having.
You're not just making noise, you're talking TO someone else. That by itself means you want someone else to agree that you are communicating, that it's worth communicating with you, and that you are saying something.
When you're doing that in the context of being a law Prof...well that by itself means you're arguing, just by your presence in the class, that you think the students should receive something from you. Do you go to class appropriately attired, and is part of the reason you do so because of your position and intention in teaching the class? That's persuasion--you might be more comfortable up there in your pajamas, but a person in pajamas in front of a class is less persuasive as "teacher" that someone wearing a more expected outfit.
Acting in a social manner is itself part of persuasion--you're arguing to other people that you are a normal person who should be treated as a normal person. Just walking around you're asserting rights and acting in expected social ways you're persuading others to respect those rights. Right?

Chuck said...

Can anyone vouch for Scott Adams' persuasive powers? Tell me what Adams' persuaded you to think. If you know, perhaps you can share how he did it.

I've been critical of Adams, but he has successfully persuaded me that he is a complete asshole. So that's something, isn't it? It counts as persuasion, right? Masterfully successful persuasion.

mockturtle said...

Well, Chuck, you have persuaded all of us.

William said...

We're all part of the zeitgeist, but some have more positive ions than others.......I didn't used to be aware that wearing cargo shorts was a problem. Now I am. I haven't changed my behavior, but I have an awareness. That counts for something........Al Capp used to be the most popular and influential cartoonist around, but who even remembers him nowadays. I suppose that's a good thing, because I vaguely remember there was some kind of scandal associated with him towards the end. Anyway, the point is that even if you're a highly charged bit of static in the zeitgeist, the moment passes and then you're gone. I suppose there are some poets and generals who glow and buzz for a bit longer, but then they're gone as well. Cartoonists and bloggers are influential in an inconsequential way.