Even as neuroscientists continue to unearth new discoveries about the human brain, some of the most effective brain hacks have been around for years. Take Blaise Pascal, for example, born in 1623. The 17th-century French philosopher, mathematician, and physicist explored human nature in his book of essays Pensées.
Brain Pickings sheds light on his stance on the art of persuasion: "Pascal came to see that the surest way of defeating the erroneous views of others is not by bombarding the bastion of their self-righteousness but by slipping in through the backdoor of their beliefs."
If you want to get someone to change their mind, you might be tempted to immediately start the discussion with talking points about why they're wrong. Pascal recommended a different approach. Start in their camp instead. Cozy up to what this person already believes, and admit there's truth in what they believe. Then, present the larger picture -- in which other angles and approaches exist. This approach is meant to lead someone into discovering another perspective or angle on their own. Instead of you doing the persuading, you're setting them up to persuade themselves.
Here are Pascal's exact words:
When we wish to correct with advantage, and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false. He is satisfied with that, for he sees that he was not mistaken, and that he only failed to see all sides. Now, no one is offended at not seeing everything; but one does not like to be mistaken, and that perhaps arises from the fact that man naturally cannot see everything, and that naturally he cannot err in the side he looks at, since the perceptions of our senses are always true... People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.
So, does this 350-year-old strategy work? Quartz took that same question to Arthur Markman, psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin. He says yes.
Markman says this approach is effective because it gets people to let their guard down. When you immediately attack someone's beliefs as wrong, they'll want only to dig in their heels more. But if you begin by affirming their position, you've taken the first step toward a cordial and potentially cooperative discussion. Markman also affirms the psychological effectiveness of leading someone to "discover" the opposite approach on their own accord. "If I have an idea myself, I feel I can claim ownership over that idea, as opposed to having to take your idea," the psychology professor explains.