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How To Reach Someone Who Doesn’t Want To Listen

A topic that has come up a lot in my life lately is “people you can’t reach.”

How do you reach someone who doesn’t want to hear what you have to say? How do you *convince* them to see your point of view? How do you help someone change their mind? Open their eyes? Get them to hear you?

[For a more in-depth look at these questions click here]

For the first 30 years of my life, I believed that no one was unreachable. That if I just knew the right language, the right approach, the right cadence and tone and timing – I could penetrate even the most obstinate of brains.

I prided myself on this and had the communication chops to back it up. I practiced in my career as a writer, a copywriter, an employee, a friend, a spouse, and a person who uses words in emails, invitations, text messages, DMs, and conversations.

It was a skill I’d been honing long before I knew what copywriting was (remind me to tell you about the time I sent and tracked 67+ emails trying to get professors to help me get into a Ph.D. program) (I did, btw) (I didn’t go, but I did succeed in my email campaigning efforts by email 41).

I wasn’t trying to become a master of persuasion, I was trying to understand if some people are truly impervious to change or if it was a matter of me having better technique. Trying harder. Doing more.

The answer, like most things, was yes AND.

There is no amount of “pitching” me on football that’s going to make me invest in buying a box or season tickets. Free drinks and good friends might persuade me to attend one or two games with you, but I’m not into football. It’s not a failure of your persuasion tactics nor my being “not open to new things” or rejecting an alternative point of view. You’re simply barking up the wrong tree.

What I’ve learned about the impenetrable obstinate (usually argumentative) folks who seem impervious to counterarguments or new ideas is as simple as me and football. With one added caveat. When you’re sitting at dinner and someone expresses a point of view you disagree with and you want to have a respectful dialogue about the topic – and it seems impossible because you can’t “reach” that person…

Then it’s not your failure at persuasion that’s at fault here, nor is it the fault of the person’s ability to listen.

It’s that the “topic” being discussed is not the real issue.

And until you can surface the Real Issue, the heart, the core, the thing that’s causing the obstinance and rigidity, you’re wasting your time fighting with a person’s defense mechanism.

And you will get nowhere.

Copywriting has taught me you can be right, or you can be effective. We should be able to be both, but on the occasions you’re forced to choose – choose effective.

Leave being right to the scientists and academics. But to you, as a writer, entrepreneur, creative, pioneer, parent, advocate, agent of change, buster of the status quo – be effective.

Bark up the right tree. Choose your battles.

Fighting with someone’s defense mechanisms, moral righteousness, projections, self-concept, and shifting object permanence is about as useful as spitting on a raging fire and expecting it to go out.

It doesn’t work.

Choosing your battles itn’t quitting, it isn’t avoidant, and it isn’t weak. It demands maturity. It demands patience. It demands the ability to see who is reachable, and who is not. And letting go of the illusion that you can, in fact, “reach” everyone.

So let’s let it go.

-Margo, staunch clinger to the illusion despite evidence to the contrary

PS: If you want to go deeper on this topic, I recommend the book The Righteous Mind and literally any video from Dr. Ramani. She speaks about Narcissism which is SUPER relevant here. Most people think it means “self-involved” and “attention-seeking” and “personality disorder” – but it’s actually a term for self-abandonment and chronic insecurity – which is what causes a preoccupation with self and explains much of this obstinate change-resistant behavior. Because if you can’t find your internal compass (who you are, what you believe — because you’ve self abandoned) you will irrationally cling to external indicators of internal worth.

That matters because if you’re clinging to your identity and self-worth from external places (instead of where it actually lives: INSIDE), then you can’t argue civilly about facts and data. Because every conversation is secretly about that person’s moral goodness or badness.

The emotional undercurrents that drive behavior directly effect your effectiveness as a persuader, communicator, and agent of change.

To get better at this skill of inspiring change in those who want to change, come check out The Copy Workshop.

We are cleared for the next round in January – I’ll let you know the exact dates when I have it. You can sign up to learn more on this page or sign up for my email list and I’ll notify you with early bird discounts 😉

PPS: Dr. Ramani also has one of the best books on the topic of self-abandonment here. It’s heavy and I’ve read it twice. I recommend you do too. It’s the unspoken psychological epidemic of our time.