Here's a truth that should be blindingly obvious in 2017: facts don't win arguments.

With the two sides of our most polarizing political debates shouting past each other and absolutely nothing constructive getting done, we desperately need to find ways to understand one another and reach some kind of respectful consensus (this is a handy trick to master at work too). But as Elizabeth Kolbert recently explained in The New Yorker, marshaling statistics and rationed arguments isn't the way.

"As everyone who's followed the research--or even occasionally picked up a copy of Psychology Today--knows, any graduate student with a clipboard can demonstrate that reasonable-seeming people are often totally irrational," she writes. Science has conclusively proven that logic and evidence just don't win arguments.

So what does? That's the topic of a recent Heleo post by scientist-turned-lawyer Ozan Varol. The useful article offers practical tips for those who are more interested in actually getting to an understanding rather than grandstanding or feeling superior, including these:

1. Give the other person an out.

People really hate admitting they're wrong (don't judge, this is doubtlessly true for you too), and it's impossible to bash through this stubbornness by sheer force. The more you demand that someone admit they were wrong or foolish, the deeper they'll generally dig themselves into their current opinion.

Instead, "give the mind an out," suggests Varol. "The key is to trick the mind by giving it an excuse. Convince your own mind (or your friend) that your prior decision or prior belief was the right one given what you knew, but now that the underlying facts have changed, so should the mind," he continues.

Yes, this demands a degree of self restraint, as insulting others or gloating can give you a quick jolt of satisfaction. But "the moment you belittle the mind for believing in something, you've lost the battle," cautions Varol.

2. Empathize your way into their perspective.

Many times, when two camps are at odds, it's not necessarily a matter of absolute disagreement about the facts, it's a matter of differing priorities or values. Skeptics of environmental regulation, for example, often concede that clean air and water are nice to have, they just think economic opportunity and jobs should weigh heavier in the balance.

That means that, to change minds, you don't just need to talk about the facts, you need to talk about beliefs. And to do that you need to see things from other people's perspective. You need empathy, in other words.

Or as Varol puts it, "if someone disagrees with you, it's not because they're wrong, and you're right. It's because they believe something that you don't believe."

"The challenge is to figure out what that thing is and adjust your frequency," he goes on to say. "If employment is the primary concern of the Detroit auto worker, showing him images of endangered penguins (as adorable as they may be) or Antarctica's melting glaciers will get you nowhere. Instead, show him how renewable energy will provide job security to his grandchildren. Now, you've got his attention."

3. Practice getting out of your bubble.

Is doing all this easy or natural? Not at all, which is why Varol's final point is essential. In order to get good at changing minds, you need to practice the skill, and that means actually regularly talking (respectfully) to people who are different from you.

"Make a point to befriend people who disagree with you. Expose yourself to environments where your opinions can be challenged, as uncomfortable and awkward as that might be," he instructs.

Also, if you want to change others' opinions, first make sure you're willing to change yours too. "Ask yourself, 'What fact would change one of my strongly held opinions?' If the answer is 'no fact would change my opinion,' you're in trouble," he suggests.

If that's your answer, it's time for you to do some soul searching about the importance of intellectual humility.

Published on: Oct 3, 2017