I love this idea that I came across in an interview with Matthew Lieberman at Edge.org.
He speaks of an old 1960’s idea called “Latitude of Acceptance”. He defines it better than I, so I’ll pretty much take his text verbatim:
Matthew Lieberman on Latitudes of Acceptance
“I’ll tell you about my new favorite idea, which like all new favorite ideas, is really an old idea. This one, from the 1960s, was used only in a couple of studies. It’s called “latitude of acceptance”. If I want to persuade you, what I need to do is pitch my arguments so that they’re in the range of a bubble around your current belief; it’s not too far from your current belief, but it’s within this bubble. If your belief is that you’re really, really anti-guns, let’s say, and I want to move you a bit, if I come along and say, “here’s the pro-gun position,” you’re actually going to move further away. Okay? It’s outside the bubble of things that I can consider as reasonable.
We all have these latitudes around our beliefs, our values, our attitudes, which teams are ok to root for, and so on, and these bubbles move. They flex. When you’re drunk, or when you’ve had a good meal, or when you’re with people you care about versus strangers, these bubbles flex and move in different ways. Getting two groups to work together is about trying to get them to a place where their bubbles overlap, not their ideas, not their beliefs, but the bubbles that surround their ideas. Once you do that, you don’t try to get them to go to the other position, you try to get them to see there’s some common ground that you don’t share, but that you think would not be a crazy position to hold.
There’s the old Carlin bit about when you drive on the road: anyone going faster than me is a maniac and anyone going slower than me is a jerk. That that’s the way we live our lives. We’re always going the right speed, and everybody else is missing the boat. We don’t take into account that I’m going fast today because I’ve got to get to the hospital, or I’m going slow today because I know I had something to drink, and I shouldn’t have, so I’m going to drive real slow. We don’t take those things into account. We just think whatever I’m doing is the right thing, and we have to recognize there’s this space around those, and if we can find that overlap we can get some movement. And so that’s not a nudge idea, per se. It’s really about finding when people are in a mental space where they’re more open to other ideas, and what is often going on there is you’re trying on identities.
William James said long ago that we have as many identities as people that we know, and probably more than that. We are different with different people. I’m different with my son than I am with you. We have these different identities that we try on, and they surround us. With some friends I can be more of a centrist, and with other friends I might be more of a liberal, depending on what feels like it would work in that moment, and they can all be authentic positions that I really believe at different points in time. I’m really interested in looking at that as a mechanism of persuasion when it comes to regular old persuasion, when it comes to education, when it comes to public health, and when it comes to international issues as well. It’s finding that latitude of acceptance and finding out how to use it successfully.”
The original article is here: http://edge.org/conversation/latitudes-of-acceptance (the section on Latitudes of Acceptance is way down the bottom)
Aristotle and The Enthymeme
Aristotle spoke of the search for the Enthymeme – the point where my beliefs connect to your beliefs. If you can find the enthymeme, you can build an argument that has a chance of persuading. If you cannot find the enthymeme, then reason will not help build a bridge between your two positions. The most important part of finding the enthymeme is finding out what is assumed as true for the audience.
The modern concept Latitudes of Acceptance captures this age-old idea of searching for the Enthymeme.
Point X and Latitudes of Acceptance
I have been a proponent for over a decade of starting all persuasive processes with your Point X. What is a realistic, concrete and specific step that you want the audience to take at the end of your words? If you can answer this first, you have a good chance of building a powerful persuasive speech.
Most persuasion fails here – it fails because we are unclear or unrealistic about what we ask of the audience.