Make a Friend

Here’s where the WinSome strategy might seem counterintuitive to some, immoral to others, and perhaps just a big waste of time. 

While the ultimate goal is persuasion, the first step is to make a friend. If you view people who disagree with you as outside of your potential circle of friends, then this seems counterintuitive. How can I make a friend of my political enemy?

If you think I’m suggesting that friend-making is merely a tool in your secret plan to change someone’s mind, then it seems deceptive, and that’s immoral. 

And if you think that the world is going to Hell in a handbasket, while I’m picking daisies in a field with my new bestie, then it seems like a big waste of time. “Let’s get on with the persuading!” you might say.

I hope to prove…

  • that you can make friends “across the aisle,”
  • that you’re not doing it merely to win an argument by other means, and
  • it’s the most efficient way to approach the art of persuasion. 

While your ultimate goal is persuade someone of something, and it starts with making a friend, the friend-making is an end in itself. That means that if your strategy succeeds no further than the establishment of a new friendship, you’ve done a good thing. We all need more friends, and public discourse is better among friends, even if minds remain unchanged. Friendship extends and enriches life, and surrounds you with people who care enough to help during hard times. To top it off, friendship reduces hostility toward your ideas, even if your new friend fails to embrace them.

So, we want to make a friend as a first step toward persuasion, but if we never take another step, it’s still a great outcome, and certainly better than if you didn’t make a friend.  It’s far superior to antagonizing another person with the old debate-defeat-destroy paradigm. 

Let me repeat: we don’t make a friend merely to advance the cause of our ideas. We make a friend because it’s good to have friends. It would be perfectly fine with me if my funeral were attended by a mix of people who agree and disagree with me, each of whom has become a friend. Obviously, if that mix were 75/25 it would be better for the cause than 50/50, but I don’t care. 

The WinSome friend-making strategy is not a waste of time. What is a waste of time is trying to argue with people who don’t trust you. That kind of so-called persuasion rapidly lapses into hubris, the thrill of hearing ourselves speak and of adjudging ourselves correct in what we say. We don’t really expect to change the mind of the other person. It’s an exercise in perpetual frustration, unless you’re so blind to the failure that you enjoy the adrenaline — in which case, it’s a type of destructive addiction.

So, if we do take the time to make a friend, we’re not wasting time. Our persuasion efforts may come to naught, but at least we’ll gain something…a friend, which, as I have said, is of far more value than an opinion. 

This reminds me of a colleague at work, who I’ll call Sam. Politically, he’s an avowed Progressive, who tunes into the news and frequently asks me what I think of the latest controversy. He expects to get a rise out of me, since we occupy opposite poles politically. But I refuse to engage in the way he expects. Instead, I grant him points where I think “my people” have gone astray, and invite him to think of the whole issue in a different way, rather than accepting the dichotomy which the news media push. In other words, I don’t immediately leap to the Conservative talking points. Throughout our dialogue, I speak in a cheerful tone, without rancor, and often employ self-deprecating humor to defuse the situation. 

I also seek to find common ground with Sam. When his Mom was sick and he had to go see her, I offered to cover his work shifts, if needed. He and I both enjoy singing, so I would get him to sing with me when things were a bit slow in the store.  He was the new guy, and I would help coach him to improve his sales when he was open to that. If he made a mistake, I’d talk to him privately and keep it between the two of us.

Truth is, I like Sam, and building this relationship is no struggle for me. 

I don’t know if I’ll succeed in changing his mind on any given topic, but I do know that he now has a Conservative friend who is not merely a caricature constructed by cable TV combat.

When Sam moved to another department, he actively worked to recruit me to it. Eventually, I too moved, and we’re both glad to see each other on a daily basis. He also introduces me to his friends in the most positive terms. We refer customers to each other when what they need is beyond our own abilities or domain. 

You may think that I’ve achieved nothing here, but I respectfully suggest that I’ve achieved two major wins:

  1. I have a new friend.
  2. There’s at least one Progressive who now won’t assume that every Conservative is stupid or evil, or both.

Who knows what the future holds?

Make a friend. Earn a hearing. Be winsome, and win some.