The Art of Persuasion Through Storytelling

This weekend my husband helped a relative of mine move into a new place. Although I actually wasn’t there (I had a speaking engagement at the Church and Synagogue Library Association), he mentioned that the discussion of politics arose after all the boxes and heavy furniture had been moved into the house.

This brings up an issue regarding all these so-called debates/discussions on TV news shows that usually end up with both sides talking at each other, and commonly at the same time. The major problem with discussions of finality such as this is that neither side really listens to the other. My husband offered his take on the current state of affairs. If the Republicans want to win, they need a better story.

I bring this up as an example, even at the risk of getting too political here on my blog, though I’m an admitted conservative. In this country, the Democrats claim a corner on the market of compassion. Compassion is something that appeals to almost any reasonable person, including myself. For the most part, I believe many Democrats are sincere in their hope to help those who can’t help themselves.

It’s how to help that the disagreements begin.

The Republicans, on the other hand, are seen as the ones who only care about the rich—despite the facts showing Republicans are more generous than Democrats when it comes to charitable giving. Just google “Who is more generous, Republicans or Democrats?” and you’ll have a choice of articles supporting the data that conservatives tend to give of their own money while liberals would rather allow collective giving—meaning everyone be forced to give—rather than willingly taking from their own pockets. Somehow if everyone isn’t forced to do the same, it’s better not to give until fairness in giving can be established.

So if Republicans are more apt to give—to causes inside and outside their church—they obviously aren’t getting out the right story about compassion.

My husband’s simple yet eloquent response was supported by a radio program he listened to in the car the other day. Michael Margolis was talking about storytelling, and how “We cannot force our beliefs onto anyone. We must create a story worth believing. The future rests on our ability to tell these kinds of stories.”

Being a storyteller myself, I was intrigued by the idea. Margolis also offered the following quote: Those who tell the stories rule the world. (Attributed, interestingly enough, to either a Hopi Indian or Plato. Perhaps they both said something similar?)

I do know changing someone’s mind doesn’t come through yelling. I’ve learned what does work from my husband. He’s a physics teacher, as I’ve mentioned before, and has learned how to bring his students around to the right answers by teaching them how to think along the right path. By asking the right questions, not lecturing. By setting up story-like scenarios that leave enough of an impression to keep their thought process going toward a natural conclusion.

And so, if I have any advice to offer to Republicans and Democrats alike: make sure the story you’re telling is effective. It should be both clear and concise, which is vital to any story. This means making sure what you’re saying matches the vision you have in your head. Back it up with correct and honest data (in a story this would be motivation), and that the choices of belief are neatly presented. And start with a universal experience everyone can agree on or relate to (such as compassion, in the example stated above).

Who knew storytelling and politics could have so much in common?

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