by Susan Hodges
The main points in the following article are derived primarily from The Essence of Political Persuasion, a three-tape audio program by Michael Cloud, distributed by Advocates for Self Government, a Libertarian organization www.self-gov.org
. You can order the tape set in a limited time offer of their project
"Operation Persuasion" for only $5.00 by calling toll-free 1 (800)
932-1776 or by sending $5 to: Advocates for Self-Government 1202 North
Tennessee St., Suite 202, Cartersville, GA 30120. NOTE: At this low
price, only one set per address, please. * Allow 3-4 weeks for
delivery. * Shipping costs will be added to foreign orders.
Most Americans are convinced that all women should give
birth in the hospital and that childbirth is very dangerous without all
the interventions of modern techno-medicine. If we are going to ensure
that the Midwives Model of Care and natural childbirth will be widely
available in the next millennium, our challenge is to persuade an awful
lot of people to think and believe and behave differently about birth
and "maternity care."
Since most people won't read printed material that
challenges their current knowledge or beliefs on any topic, effective
oral communication with individuals and groups is essential. Speaking
has advantages: while an article or book is static and written for a
predetermined audience, oral communication can be customized for the
listener as you go. Oral communication does not replace reading, of
course, but persuasive speaking may be the best way to get someone to
finally read one of those fliers or articles. And in the political
arena, brief oral communication may be your primary means of persuading
legislators about your cause.
Good communicating involves the clear and intelligent
presentation of ideas, but that is rarely enough to change someone's
mind. Persuasion, on the other hand, means getting the other person to
change their thinking and accept your idea.
THE MOST BASIC ELEMENTS OF SUCCESSFUL PERSUASION
1. Know the outcome you want
persuaders have a strong sense of purpose. They know just what they
want to accomplish (which might be as simple as getting someone to read
an article or go to a meeting); they state or think about the desired
long-term result in positive terms (they are FOR the Midwives Model of
Care, rather than anti-doctor); and they focus on goals that can be
realistically accomplished. They identify specific ways in which they
will know if they have been successful.
2. Refine your sensory awareness to know when you are getting the desired response
obstacle to effective persuading is our tendency to stay inside our own
heads, to make assumptions instead of using our senses to check and
verify what is actually happening. As many of us have discovered in
childbirth and midwifery, being in the present, in our senses, is
mind-altering and empowering; we can lean that this is just as true for
the art of persuasion.
If you know the response you seek, then you can analyze
if what you are doing is effective. If your approach is not getting the
results you want, doing the same thing harder, longer, or louder
generally won't get the results you want. You analyze by using your
senses to notice how the other person is behaving, what they are doing,
how they sound and how they look.
3. Be flexible in your method, be able to try many behaviors or methods
says, "If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what
you've always gotten." And, "If what you are doing isn't working,
change YOUR behavior!" Doesn't this sound like working with labor or
working with toddlers? If labor has slowed down, you change your
activity. If your two-year-old is going bonkers, it is up to you to
change the activity and the energy, and you try different tactics till
you find the one that works, that results in your toddler being calmer.
As an effective persuader you realize that the meaning
of your communication is actually the response you get, and you
generate and utilize alternatives in your conversation or presentation
as soon as you see that what you were doing is not working. As Cloud
points out, there are no stubborn audiences, only incompetent speakers,
no closed-minded audiences, only speakers who fail to be resourceful,
no resistant people, only inflexible communicators. As he puts it, "You
are the variable that controls the equation in the math of life."
Don't limit yourself! Limit your options and you lose
your edge. For example, you might justify your behavior or tactic
because it is "right," or have a list of things you won't do based on
"principles." For instance, deciding never to discuss midwifery in
terms of choice because choice is associated with abortion, which you
oppose, eliminates a persuasive option likely to be especially
effective with some audiences. In contrast, the greater the variety of
your repertoire, the more choices of action you have and the more
ability you have to influence any encounter. Isn't this true of working
with someone in labor, too? And for most other areas of endeavor? So,
seek to have a multitude of strategies – look for them, learn them,
use them. When you find one is not working, you'll have others to try.
You will meet people you can't persuade. Then ask
yourself: what did I try? What else did I try? What didn't I try? What
else didn't I try? This will help you develop your awareness and your
ESSENTIAL SKILLS AND USEFUL TACTICS
Essential Skills and Useful Tactics
persuasion requires more than just the three key elements described
above. The following points are essential skills and techniques that
will help you be effective with people who are neutral or negative
regarding the midwifery issue at hand.
1. Build Rapport
Rapport with your listener
is very important, and good speakers do things to get in sync with
their audience whether one or many. Rapport means getting into
alignment or getting in step with the other person's reality, meeting
them in their place instead of expecting them to meet you in yours.
Most of us do some of this all the time with friends and family, but
you may have to do it more consciously with someone you want to
Mirror the other person's posture and non-verbal
behavior – sit how they are sitting, if they lean across the table,
you lean across the table, etc. (This includes clothing! Dress
similarly to or appropriately for the people you'll be talking with.)
- Mirror facial expressions – when they smile, you smile back, etc.
- Pace yourself to the other person's tempo – walk at their speed, talk at their rhythm, etc.
- Match the volume at which they are speaking.
All of this mirroring and matching lets you present
yourself non-verbally as a person that resembles your listener; it
validates them and helps to establish trust and credibility. Mirroring
non-verbal behavior leads to synchrony and often lets you experience
the world a little like the other person does. Once you are "in sync"
you can lead the other person where you want to them to go. Mirror,
pace, match, etc., then lead, and if they don't follow, go back to more
2. Ask Questions and Use Reflective Listening
way to build rapport is to sincerely ask questions to elicit the
listener's point of view on the subject. Use reflective listening
techniques (such as "If I understand you correctly, you are saying
that...."), clarifying questions (such as, "Can you explain a little
more what you mean by..." or "I'm wondering how you arrived at that
conclusion, could you tell me more about what happened?"), and
informational questions (such as "I'd like to understand more about
your concerns on this issue" or "You mentioned ..., can you tell me
some more?"). Everyone likes to be heard and taken seriously. Your
listener will feel important, validated and respected and some of that
will rub off – the listener in turn will see you as a good person
(because you listened to them). The trick is to listen and draw the
other person out, without stating your disagreements, opposing position
or counter-arguments! You will at the very least learn valuable
information about what is important to this individual which you can
use in your persuasive efforts, you will have control of the
conversation because you are asking the questions, and in the end, the
listener usually feels so good about you that they will be willing to
hear a little about your point of view on the issue.
3. Get to the real issue
debates, issues are brought up and responded to, one after another, but
no one changes their views. This can happen in individual
conversations, too, often because the issue that is truly of concern to
the listener is not being addressed (the listener may not even be quite
aware of what is really important to them....). Both the content of
your remarks and how you are addressing the issues may be the problem.
Don't assume you know how your listener thinks! In addition to
establishing rapport, here are some steps you can take:
** Isolate the issue
your familiarity (or lack of it) with the situation your listener
brings up, such as, that they oppose out-of-hospital birth because it
is too dangerous. You can ask your listener something like, "If we
looked at the evidence and found the situation was actually NOT as you
described , that is, the statistics showed that home birth is NOT
dangerous, etc., would you be convinced to change your position on
this?" If they answer no, then you can say, "It seems there is
something else more important that is of concern to you – can you
tell me about that?" and prompt the person to explain (perhaps stemming
from a personal experience etc.). After addressing that real issue, you
can go on and ask, "In addition to that is there anything else that
concerns you?" and then deal with that. This is much more effective
than going round and round on "obvious" issues, which aren't really
important to that person and won't change their thinking.
** Identify the criteria for acceptable evidence – the "onus of criteria" principle
can ask your listener what they would accept as convincing evidence
that your hypothesis or position is valid, and you can ask "what if"
questions with hypothetical ideas to help them recognize their
criteria. For example, ask "What if you saw..... would that convince
you?" or "What if you became convinced that ...?" In other words,
generate hypothetical criteria for people to help them realize what
their criteria are. Sometimes you will be asking a person to spell this
out for the first time, and it can be very enlightening and useful for
the listener. Obviously, if there is no criteria for acceptable
evidence, the listener is operating on belief, not rational thought
about the issue.
** Use the "falsifiability principle"
is similar to the criteria principle above. Ask what demonstration,
facts, etc. would convince the listener that their hypothesis (for
example, hospitals are the safest place to have a baby) is false or
wrong? If a theory cannot be falsified, it cannot be verified either.
In that case, it is not a theory but a belief. Since people generally
do not know what would convince them, you can ask "what if" and
"suppose" questions. For example, "Suppose evidence showed that all
women in childbirth did better with a midwife rather than with an OB?
Would that convince you that not all women need an OB for childbirth?"
** Use "Mind-Altering" questions
effective persuasion, you will benefit from spending time looking at
HOW people think – the processes, patterns they use. Do not presume
that you know how your listener thinks! You can ask questions! However,
avoid asking "why" questions; as these lead to justifications,
rationalizations, generalizations and denials and do not help you
accomplish your purpose. The best questions begin with how, what, when
and where. Here are some examples of the kinds of questions you can
- Specifically, how do you know when an idea is worth considering?
- What information would allow you to know that you had made an error?
- What would get you interested in a new idea?
- Specifically, what are you unsure of in this discussion?
- When would you know if my evidence were valid?
- What would motivate you to get more information?
- How do you know when you are open-minded on an issue?
- Was there ever a time when you did not have this belief?
- What would let you know that you are convinced?
- How do you know when an argument persuades you?
- Have you ever changed your mind on an important issue?
- How did you go about it?
- What would you need to change your mind on this issue?
One of our biggest errors is to assume that the
listener thinks the same way we do. Ask questions to find out. Then you
can know exactly what you need to do to change this person's mind.
4. Use language to your advantage
If the law
of the jungle is kill or be killed, Cloud says the law of politics is
"define or be defined." Words are both weapons and tools.
History includes many examples of the power of names
and words, and currently enormous sums are spent on developing product
names and advertising slogans, because word choices greatly influence
peoples' perceptions of products (and people, causes, etc.) and their
actions. Words can have powerful connotations, so it is important to be
aware and choose names and words that generate positive responses to
your cause. The Coalition for Improving Maternity Services, and the
Mother Friendly Childbirth Initiative are inspired phrases. Who can be
against these? If you are against either one, you must be in favor of
making maternity services worse or supporting mother-hostile
childbirth! No one would want to be associated with those positions.
Use names or words that make it awkward or ridiculous for someone to be
** Find out what your terms really MEAN to others
are connotations that go with "lay midwife," "traditional midwife,"
"birth attendant," "certified professional midwife," "licensed
midwife??" What about "home birth" vs. "out-of-hospital birth?" You'll
probably want to choose your terms carefully depending on the
background, point of view, and the connotations those terms are likely
to have for your listener or audience, rather than the term you like
the best for yourself. Let's look at "Midwives Model of Care." Because
it has similar words and structure to "medical model of care," the kind
of terminology familiar to health care professionals and officials, the
term gives midwifery care equal stature and suggests that midwifery is
good care in its own right, NOT the absence of medical care, while
avoiding words with negative connotations. The key is to find out what
the terms you use actually mean to your listeners and audiences.
** Avoid terms with negative connotations.
want to avoid having words or phrases with negative connotations
applied to your cause. Here is a strategy to use when someone else uses
biased or negative language to describe your position.
- "Unpack" the connotations of the unflattering term
used; in other words, describe the negative meanings the term usually
implies (but don't agree that yes, maybe you could think of your cause
in that way because of the history or less common definitions of the
word – its negative connotations will still stick to you, and that is
what you want to avoid.).
- Critique these connotations (briefly explain how they don't apply to you).
- Define your position with more accurate terms.
- Identify and point out two or three positive implications for outcomes of your position.
For example, someone says that your position supporting
midwifery and home birth is just too radical. You could say something
like, "Radical usually means extreme or off the wall, even
irresponsible, radical at all costs, and that does not describe us. We
don't support extreme or irresponsible practices. We support using
proven, evidence-based practices that have been shown to be effective
for having healthy mothers and babies. Midwifery care leads to shorter
labors with fewer drugs and interventions – safe and healthy for Mom
and for Baby!"
5. Use "political cross dressing" to reach groups with different perspectives
all know that midwives and midwifery advocates include people from the
entire political and demographic spectra and many special interest
groups. We can use the "political cross dressing" technique to reach
many different kinds of people. For midwifery, this really means
recognizing the important concerns of each political/philosophical
group, and showing how midwifery meets their concerns. For example, for
the environmentalists' midwifery care, especially at home, is "green" – it is "natural," saves resources and is gentle to life and the
earth. For the religious person the midwifery model is family centered,
respects birth and the Creator's plan, and may be compatible with
specific religious laws or teachings. For the feminist, the midwifery
model is about choice and empowerment. For the capitalist, this
approach supports free enterprise. For medical and public health
professionals (and many others) the Midwives Model of Care is about
proven, evidence-based care for healthy mothers and babies. Etc.
If you want to persuade people with different political and philosophical outlooks, you need to gather some information first:
- "Know their "language" – the key words and phrases
used by that group or philosophy, as well as their emotional key words
and the basic evidence, arguments and beliefs that support their
- Know the concerns (hopes, fears, wants and needs)
that motivate the group and individuals who join it, and what they want
- Show how the Midwives Model of Care addresses their concerns and is part of the solution.
Michael Cloud's tapes also include some more advanced
techniques, which require practice and quick thinking, and are not
applicable to all situations. These involve being able to use opposing
arguments to make your own points persuasively – the martial arts of
Think through these points. Try them out and practice
with a friend. Use some of them and analyze the results – you'll
become effective at persuasion!
Reprinted from Citizens for Midwifery News, July 1999. Permission to reprint with attribution.