Earn a Hearing

Fundamentally, the entire WinSome persuasion strategy stands on a foundation of respect.

Our working theory is that if you want someone to agree with you, he first has to listen. In order to actually listen, rather than merely to feign attention or wait to respond, he must hold you in some esteem. He must respect you.

How do you earn someone’s respect?

Let’s reverse the question and ask: How does someone earn your respect?

Actually, several methods exist. 

Some people have positional authority, or subject-area expertise, which overrides most other factors. We may listen to a person even if we don’t like him — although that’s rare. In most cases, we evaluate whether we like a person before we lend credence to anything he says, regardless of his apparent authority or expertise.  

Our relative affection toward someone can depend on how that person treats us in a personal encounter. To quote Gollum from The Lord of the Rings movie, “We be nice to them if they be nice to us.”

When someone else treats me with respect and dignity, something inside me says, “He’s a good guy. I like him.” At that point, he earns from me a hearing for his ideas. In other words, my admiration or affection for him reduces or eliminates my instinct to argue, at least initially. I may still disagree with some of what he says, but so long as he maintains the bond of affection, I’ll maintain the courtesty of listening to him and considering what he says. 

This may, at first, seem counterintuitive.

It’s common for those who have treasured principles to instinctively believe that the weight of the ideas alone earns the right to be heard. But human nature doesn’t work that way. (Recall that we’re the species that rejected the counsel of almighty God — and crucified Jesus — because we had a better idea.)

If you hope to have any chance of earning a hearing, you must start with winning a person’s affection and respect. 

This is not brain surgery: Respect is received after it’s given.

In other words, if you want respect, show respect. Recall our other principle: If you wish to make a friend, be a friend. In other words, if you want someone to listen to your ideas, listen to his. This can be painful. It’s tough to patiently, and carefully, listen to someone who you think is full of baloney.

Keep in mind, though, that this is exactly how he views you. 

You may have heard that respect is a two-way street, and that’s true, but it starts as a one-way street.

Someone must initiate it. That someone must often continue to maintain respect for minutes, hours, days, months or even years, before it comes back around. To get respect, you must give respect, but that’s not a guarantee, and there’s no specific timeline.

To avoid additional frustration, make sure you clearly understand the following: Like so many character issues, you don’t give respect so you can get it. You show respect because you are a respectful person. It’s the right thing to do. If the respect you show another remains unrequited for a long time, or forever, you still show respect. It’s who you are. 

If it never “works”, you maintain your dignity. That may be the only benefit you ever knowingly receive. Even then, it’s possible that someone else may observe how you behave, and be moved to consider the ideas rejected by the person you’re trying to persuade. Again, you’re not showing respect as a persuasion tool, even for your secret audience, and yet showing respect creates the atmosphere for potential persuasion by earning a hearing.

The upshot: You can’t persuade someone until you earn a hearing, but if you’re working to earn a hearing just so you can persuade someone, it’s much more difficult to accomplish.

You can’t fake authenticity. Only a charlatan would try.

WinSome strategy is not a trick. It’s a way of life. Truth be told, I’ve merely systematized what might be called “common-sense civility” in another era, but which now seems alien. 

At some point in the WinSome process, we’ll realize that the heart of it all is human dignity and love. 

Once you’re able to see the dignity in each person and to love him — to act in his best interest — you’ll find you need to devote much less effort to persuasion.

You’ll also find you’re much more effective at it.