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Build Bridges Before Facts

Connect in order to Convince

When we are trying to convince someone of something, say to make a certain decision or to buy something or invest in our idea, the assumption is that our goal should be to get the other person to agree with the points we are making.

We think that we are operating on a strictly intellectual plane and therefore so long as we make the right logical argument, we will be successful.


That’s not how people actually make decisions. We don’t examine the facts and come to a conclusion based on them. We make the decision first and then filter the data in a way that supports it. 

The ones that validate our decision are “true”. The ones that contradict it are “fake”.The decision comes first, from our feelings and emotions, and we cherry pick the facts.

If we look at the way we actually approach these kind of conversations it’s clear that this is the case. When we are presenting our case to someone we may assume we are making a rational argument but instinctually what we are doing is trying to appeal to someone’s emotions. 

We exaggerate the severity of the problem or the benefit of the solution in order to shift the person from reason to emotion. At some level we already know that how someone feels is more important than what someone thinks. 

The problem is that we assume that the feeling comes as a result of our judgement of the facts when in reality we are using the feeling to judge the facts. We are getting things exactly backwards. 

We need to start with feelings.

Feelings as Filters

The reason is because our feelings are what drives us. At our core, we all have a set of values and insecurities that animate us at an animal level. 

A lot of the time its fear that pushes us. sometimes it’s desire, less often anger or other emotions. But the point is that our deep-set motivations manifest themselves through our feelings.

This doesn’t mean it’s an external object of our fear or desire or anger that is pushing us. It is not the actual thing we fear or desire that motivates us. While that may be the immediate trigger for what we are feeling, it’s the feeling itself that matters. 

In fact, quite often there is no actual object that is triggering our emotion, especially when it comes to fear. For example, when we are presented with something unfamiliar our default emotion is fear in the form of nervousness or uneasiness.

In that case, one of the first “facts” that we are using to validate our feeling is to find an object that “caused” it. After all we are taught that when there is smoke there is fire right? When we are afraid there must be something to fear? 

Fear is the trigger for our intellect to start searching for danger

Fear is trying to keep us alive

As fear is one of humanity’s strongest drivers, let’s look at that a little more closely. In our ancestral environment, this makes sense because a caveman couldn’t afford the luxury of analysis. When the tiger is about to jump you, you don’t have time to rely on your intellect to make a rational decision. 

Fear is the protective mechanism that allowed your ancestors to be your ancestors. Those cavemen who were not paranoid enough didn’t survive. Death cuts off any chance of your genes being passed on so avoiding that is any organism’s paramount concern. Fear therefore tends to override any other mechanism, emotional or intellectual.

Similarly, desire, anger, sadness, etc. At some level all these feelings are drivers of our decision making. We are designed for survival and our intellect and rationality was meant to solve problems that are motivated by our emotions. 

When we needed to stay alive, either by avoiding danger or obtaining resources, the drive came from the fear and desire we felt.

Its no longer a jungle out there

We may no longer be threatened by tigers lurking in the bushes but that system is still in place and still drives us. We supposedly live in a world of data but the way we think we use that data is not the way we are actually it. And that has implications for how we work with other people.

Our core motivations come from our feelings bubbling up from our these drivers. On top of this we must then consider the set of intellectually derived ambitions and long term desired outcomes. 

The problem most people have is that when making a case for something we focus too much on the latter without taking into account the former. Our conscious goals should be derived from our intellectual ambitions informed by our core emotional motivations

When we are making a case for something or trying to change someone’s mind, if we provide them facts and figures supporting our case but those do not align with the way they feel, they will simply use that contrary feeling to determine that our facts and figures must be wrong. 

But if we connect with their feelings first,if we address their feelings first then we short circuit this process. 

Their feelings are validated, so at some level it feels to your target that your decision is the same as theirs so that it is then only the specific facts which validate their decision that need to be determined. 

It feels to them that you are working towards the same end so in a way, your argument becomes a collaboration in justifying the same feeling decision you both have.

Build the bridge…

This means that in order to convince someone of something we need to create the same feeling in them that we have in ourselves. Data needs an emotional bridge to ride across.

If the person doesn’t feel that their feeling is reciprocated, then they instinctually question our whole argument. On the other hand, if they feel that we are being motivated by our feelings in a similar way to how they are being motivated by their feelings, then they trust our judgement about the facts that validate those feelings. 

They can open up their minds to the intellectual argument we are making because we are then all working towards the same end of justifying why we feel that way.

So the question then becomes, how do we do this? How do we align our feelings with that of the person we are talking to?

At first blush it seems that our goal should be to create in the other person the same feeling that is driving ourselves. Two problems with that. 

The first is that, practically speaking, we are rarely aware of the core motivator that is pushing us. So it would be difficult to create in someone else something we don’t even know in ourselves. Two, even if we were aware of our motivational feeling, we cannot use facts and figures to create the same feeling in them. 

Making a rational argument to an emotional decision is bringing a knife to a gun fight. You were not convinced that way, why should the other person be?

…from their end first

So what’s left? If we cannot convince them to feel the same way we do, how can we build a mutual feeling as a bridge over which we can then drive our rational argument?

The answer is that rather than trying to create our feeling in them, we need to open ourselves up to feel the same way they do. This is much much harder than it seems because it is hard to look past our own feelings to truly see what the other person is feeling. We need to throw our focus out from our own internal conversation and out to the other person.

We need to be empathic not sympathetic. 

This means not imagining how they would feel, that’s in our own heads, but opening ourselves up to how they are actually feeling. It’s about intentional attention not intellectual imagining.

Once we are able to see what they are feeling, regardless of whether we believe we would feel the same way, then we can connect with the other person and can start talking facts.

Human society is built from emotion not facts. That is neither good nor bad, it is just reality and if we start with that we can be much more effective within in it.