Negotiating Tip #52:
How to Reason with Unreasonable People
We have written about Wharton School psychologist Adam Grant’s new book, Think Again. He did an OpEd in the New York Times which summarized his advice about a problem that we often encounter as negotiators: how to reason with unreasonable people (The Science of Reasoning With Unreasonable People) (behind nytimes.com paywall).
As he writes, “When we try to change a person’s mind, our first impulse is to preach about why we’re right and prosecute them for being wrong.” But experiments show that the usual result is this only strengthens their beliefs, plus it makes them more resistance to further efforts to change their views.
Grant explains that the better approach is: “helping them find their own intrinsic motivation to change” by asking open-ended questions and listening carefully, “holding up a mirror so they can see their own thoughts clearly.” This approach, called “motivational interviewing,” was pioneered by professors William Miller and Stephen Rollnick in their 1991 book of that name. They emphasize the importance of a genuine desire to understand people’s views and to help them reach their goals – that is, do not approach the interviews as a way to manipulate people.
So if the other party is being completely unreasonable, do not take them on frontally. Instead, engage in a genuine conversation in which you listen carefully about what are they after and what are their motivations. Help lead them to understand how they can best achieve their aims.