How to Move a Stubborn Ass

Donkeys are legendary for their stubbornness. And, because they weigh more than the average human, they’re hard to move when they prefer to stay put.

A tough audience

A tough audience

Does that sound like many of the people you might be trying to persuade?

I don’t claim to be a livestock expert, but I did see a technique on TV once that seemed to work pretty well (and we all know that if it’s on TV it has to be true). The donkey driver—for lack of a better term—had a long rope attached to the donkey’s halter, and looped it around the back of the donkey’s legs (behind the ass’ ass, in other words). When he pulled, the donkey felt a pressure from behind and did not associate it with the DD, so he began walking.

That’s not a bad image to keep in mind when you have to convince a stubborn individual or audience. It’s tempting to get right to the point, but if you attack their beliefs directly and forcefully, all you’re likely to do is make them even less inclined to move. So, you’ve got to loop around behind them. Begin your presentation by laying out their position, and your understanding of why they feel the way they do. This will either put them at ease or confuse them, but it won’t get them to automatically put up the shield. Show the ways that your position agrees with them: maybe you agree on ends but not means, or in degree but not quality.

When you have their attention, and possibly even a head nodding or two, then you can gradually nudge them out of their position. Maybe you point out inconsistencies, mistaken assumptions, new information that might let them change their minds without losing face or feeling like they’re being pulled too hard. The best result is that they feel like they are changing their own minds, not being forced into anything.

One caveat: Thinking of people who disagree with you as asses is probably not conducive to the kind of thinking you need to be able to express their position with any understanding, but the child in me couldn’t resist!

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