Thinking Outside the Argument Box


I am constantly imploring you to stop using an "either-or" approach to educating your fellow non-Muslims about Islam. If what you're doing isn't working, try something else. But what? I thought we could start collecting some ideas. We'll keep them all collected on a single post: How to Think Outside the Persuasion Box so when you feel like you're getting nowhere with someone, you can go to one place to get ideas.

There are many books on the topic of persuasion, and many books on arguing. But these are dealing with two different things. Argumentation is about logic and facts and evidence, and only works on the audience listening to the argument. Persuasion includes facts and logic but includes something more: The human element. Emotions, culturally-specific triggers, rapport, memories, allegiances, feelings, psychological factors, associations, subliminal influences, etc. These elements of persuasion work directly on the person you're talking to, and work best one-on-one, which is usually what most of us are doing when we talk about Islam — we're talking personally to one person at a time.

I recommend studying persuasion rather than argumentation (unless you're a public speaker).

If you're arguing with someone and feel stuck, it's time to add something else to your side. You're arguing on a level field — argument against argument, fact against opposing fact, logic against logic. The effort often feels futile. The argument goes round and round and doesn't seem to get anywhere. When this happens, add something extra to your side. Add something outside the argument box.

You can find good ideas in books on persuasion. One such book is Get Anyone to Do Anything and Never Feel Powerless Again by David J. Lieberman (also available on audio). Here are a few ideas quoted from the book:

1. Studies show that when our self-awareness is heightened we are more easily influenced. This suggests that when we can see ourselves — literally — in a reflection, we are more persuadable. Having a conversation by a mirrored wall or reflective panel will increase your chances of influencing the person.

2. Reciprocal persuasion: Researchers found that if someone had previously persuaded you to change your mind, he would be more inclined to reciprocate by changing his attitudes about something when you ask. Similarly, if you had resisted his appeal and not changed your mind, he would often "reciprocate" by refusing to change his own mind. You can use this very easily to your advantage by saying, "I thought about what you said regarding [any previous conversation where he was explaining his point of view] and I've come to agree with your thinking. You're right."

3. Studies conclude that when a person holds an opposing view, you should adopt a two-sided argument. When you're dealing with a stubborn person, we can likely assume that he's based his opinion, at least in part, on fact. Therefore, a one-sided argument will appear to him as if you are not taking his thinking into consideration. Consequently, in this instance, present both sides (following the rule of primacy, be sure to present your side first) and you will find him more malleable in his thinking.

I quoted all three of the ideas above from a single page of Lieberman's 180-page book. As you can see, these kinds of ideas might help you get outside of a deadlock. They can help you continue the fight, but in a new way. They can make your conversations more interesting and challenging for you. They can make your efforts feel less futile. And they will increase your success rate.

I'm challenging all of us to do what the teacher in Freedom Writers did, and when you can't seem to reach someone — when you seem unable to make your message penetrate — that you find a way rather than simply blaming your listener. Find a way around the impasse. Use ideas from books on salesmanship, persuasion, and influence to help you get around the obstacles interfering with your goal.

And when you find something that works well, please share your story with us on Talk About Islam Among Non-Muslims.


Article Spotlight

One of the most unusual articles on is Pleasantville and Islamic Supremacism.

It illustrates the Islamic Supremacist vision by showing the similarity between what happened in the movie, Pleasantville, and what devout fundamentalist Muslims are trying to create in Islamic states like Syria, Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia (and ultimately everywhere in the world).

Click here to read the article.


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