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Love and Sales: How to Win Supporters – Not Just Arguments

As I take up invitations around the country to discuss the Blue Republican idea, I am learning a great deal about how our minds are opened and even changed when it comes to politics. In a slight departure from my usual topics, I offer the following in the hope that other lovers of liberty may find my experience useful in their own attempts to improve our nation ...

No one arrives at his or her political preferences as a result of only, or even mostly, logical argument (despite fervently held feelings to the contrary). Rather, people find themselves most easily convinced by arguments that support political views to which they have become committed for often highly complex reasons that the their conscious mind may never even know.

Political allegiances and views are sticky: if you significantly change them, you are potentially changing your relationships with everyone with whom you have shared them – perhaps including your wife, husband or kids etc.; you are potentially saying that you were wrong in hundreds of conversations when you insisted you were right; you may even have to stop doing things that you have been doing passionately – or start doing things that you’d rather not be bothered with.

When you’re discussing politics, then, you’re really not doing politics: you’re doing psychology. And if you’re a political activist, you are doing sales and marketing.

Selling a new political perspective to someone is at least as hard as selling any other kind of product - but sales it definitely is.

No good salesman tries to change his customer. Rather, he finds out what matters to her, and then, using that uniquely human and humane quality called empathy, shows how his product satisfies her needs or desires or concerns.

Nevertheless, I notice that many of my political brethren advocate for our favored candidate and passionately held beliefs by trying to show our opponents they are wrong. It never works – even when they are wrong - because being right is not the same thing as winning an argument. And even more importantly, winning an argument is not the same thing as winning a supporter.

Worse than the tendency to insist that one’s opponents are wrong is the tendency to suspect that they must also (therefore) be bad. The logic usually runs something like this. “Person X claims to care about Y [insert value here, such as peace, liberty etc.], but he believes or does Z. Z is incompatible with Y. Therefore, X is a hypocrite [or deceitful or otherwise ill-intended]”.

This is how to lose votes and alienate people.

It ensures that person X will never be persuaded by you in anything – and causes him to associate your views with people they don’t respect because they don’t respect him.

You see, the sine qua non of persuasion is respect, and preferably even Trust - every salesman’s best friend.

If you want to take someone on a journey – whether it is emotional, intellectual, political or even spiritual, you have to start by engaging them where they are – not where you are or where you think they should be. That means finding a position or principle or passion that you share. (There is always one.) Then, explain why that point or principle or passion leads you to your point of view. Be gentle. Remember that you are offering something, not forcing something down someone’s throat. The spirit is, “This works for me. Maybe it could be useful for you?” You are going to lead by example – not force, because everyone resists force. (Consider this an empirical psychological corollary of the non-aggression principle!)

As in sales, so in all of life: seek first to understand – and only then to be understood. This is an idiom that actually makes your life easier, because people will always tell you how they can be persuaded if only you listen for long enough to let them.

The fundamental, psychological truth here is quite simple: no one cares what you think; they only care what they think. But if they respect you – and only if they respect you – will they let your thinking affect theirs.

We all know it. Have you ever once been persuaded by a person you disrespect?

Exactly. So in fighting for our ideals, always show respect – in order to gain it. Do it however wrong your interlocutor may be, and however incredibly incoherent their views may seem.

If you are more concerned with improving your world than being right, then remember that from any given paradigm, you can find areas of disagreement - and oftentimes disagreement of principle - with everyone.

But if we activists CHOOSE to get on our high horses about what we disagree about (and it is ALWAYS a choice) rather than CHOOSE to see what good we can do together, we have no right to moan when we fail to make progress.

The very worst thing to do is to impute someone’s intent or moral quality based on their views. Doing so is always divisive. That’s what one does when one calls someone a hypocrite or a fool or a shill. From one's own paradigm, it may indeed be true that their saying or doing A may be entirely inconsistent with their saying or doing B - but why on earth put down a person whom you're trying to persuade to your way of thinking?

In short, self-righteousness isn't effective - even when it's well-founded.

Love - which is unifying, inclusive and kind - is ultimately your only way of getting people to come to your side. And criticizing a person (rather than his views) with whom you have any common ground achieves little or nothing - so why do it?

And (not But) always stay true to your principles. Act from your own truth even when others disagree with you. Realize that doing so requires only stating your beliefs honestly and never acting against them. It does not mean refusing to work in some areas with those who with whom you differ profoundly in others.

Winning arguments against people who are wrong is easy and, frankly, pointless. Spreading your values, by definition, requires communicating with people with whom you don't agree. That necessarily involves respecting those people enough to build trust and find those starting points of common ground. You can always do that without endorsing those views with which you disagree. But build the respect first: leave the disagreements for another day.

John Knox, who was in the persuasion business 500 years ago, famously said, “it’s impossible simultaneously to antagonize and persuade”. It's still true - and always will be.

So start your political discussions, your Facebook threads and your political speeches with the ultimate goal in mind: to win supporters - not just arguments.

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Empathy is The Only Way To Have a Chance

The chemistry that occurs between and among people is always different. That is why it requires a customized approach by different types of people to reach the voting majority.

As an example, in Philly, many of the the voters make their choices based on thier PERCEPTION of who will help or hurt their ability to feed their family.

PERCEPTION - The people who I am discussing here cannot be persuaded by logic. They combine hearsay, preconceived notions, and discussions with their peers to make their decisions. It would require one of their trusted peers to persuade them. A stranger preaching the Revolutionary War won't cut it with this group.

INCOME - Many of these voters do not care about economics or trickle up or down. If their babies are hungary, they do not care whether the food comes from a government handout or a job. If they need medical care, that is their only concern. Free healthcare sounds good because they cannot see themselves having enough money to afford private healthcare fast enough to cure their current health problems.

This is just one of many types of people who make up the voting majority. That's why empathy is the key word in successfully reaching the voting majority.

Gene Louis
Supporting a Needed Tool for Government Feedback:
A Citizen-Operated Legal System.

Love the article, Robin, but...

Haters of Ron Paul, haters of libertarianism, lovers of the state, etc... love to bust into a discussion thread with copy from stuff like the ones listed below. Even if you find that "something" to agree with folks like this on (antiwar, civil liberties, etc...), their over-riding priorities will shift on the fly. As soon as the "rascist" angle appears in the discussion, there doesn't appear to be anything left to do but return such vitriol in kind OR cut and run.

As much admiration as I've had for Dr. Paul since "discovering" him in 2007, I find myself wishing for just a little more principled denunciation from him on this subject. I understand the heat of campaigning in our 24 hour news cycle, and how sometimes its better to just let something lie, but it would still be nice to have some vintage "good-doctor" direct and reasoned responses to these things...

Thanks again for a very timely and thoughtful article with which I whole-heartedly agree...

Top 10 Racist Ron Paul Friends & Supporters
--By Casey Gane-McCalla (key source: Anonymous)

"Ron Paul is not a God, so SHUT UP!"
"Why I Will Not Vote for Ron Paul"
"10 Reasons Not To Vote For Ron Paul" By Summer Ludwig
"Ron Paul’s phony populism" BY GARY WEISS
"Why I won’t be voting for Ron Paul…ever"
"Why government is important and libertarianism is bollocks" By Michael Rosch
"Ron Paul compares Social Security and Medicare to slavery"
"According To Former Aide, Ron Paul Would Have Allowed Hitler To Achieve Victory In Europe" By Stephen D. Foster Jr.
"Three Myths About Ron Paul" By Ben Adler
White nationalist leader says 'we agree' with Ron Paul on the issues
"FACT CHECK: Ron Paul Personally Defended Racist Newsletters" By Judd Legum
"Video- John Birch Society 1990 Video Starring Ron Paul On U.N. Secret Plot To Take Over U.S.A."
"Ron Paul Signs Personhood USA Pledge, Proving Once Again That He Is NOT A Libertarian Or A Liberal" By Stephen D. Foster Jr.
"Letter Reveals How Ron Paul Cashed in on Paranoia" By Tim Murphy
NY Times - "Paul Disowns Extremists’ Views but Doesn’t Disavow the Support" By JIM RUTENBERG and SERGE F. KOVALESKI
"Ron Paul’s Campaign Touts Endorsement Of Pastor Who Advocates Killing Gay People" By Doug Mataconis
"White Supremacists Rallying Around Ron Paul’s Presidential Campaign" By Todd A. Heywood
"Ron Paul As Conservative, Not Defender of Freedom" By Ron Chusid
"Why does anyone like Ron Paul?" BY Ashley F. Miller
"10 Quotes That Make Ron Paul Sound Racist" By Matthew Desmond
"According To Former Aide, Ron Paul Would Have Allowed Hitler To Achieve Victory In Europe" By Stephen D. Foster Jr.
"Ron Paul's 15 Most Extreme Positions" By Josh Harkinson
"Ron Paul and Libertarianism's Dirty Secret -- Pandering to Racist "Rednecks" to Get Ahead" By Alex Pareene
"6 Things Rich People Need to Stop Saying" By David Wong
"If Ron Paul is the answer, then the question must be ridiculous"

"We don't want no war no more..."
--Aimee Allen

Thanks, I have been guilty of

Thanks, I have been guilty of the antagonistic methods. Will keep this in mind as I go forward!

The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. - Heinlein

Thank You

Should be read by all. Effective tactics for persuasion. We are the media.

Beautifully written.

If every Ron Paul supporter would take this advice, we'd take over the House of Representatives and Senate by 2016.

"The truth is that neither British nor American imperialism was or is idealistic. It has always been driven by economic or strategic interests." - Charlie Reese


You continue to be a great example of how Paul's supporters ought to interact with non-libertarians.
Love the Knox quote.... You know that he was a Calvinist and that doesn't fit very well in a libertarian framework.

It used to fit...

Back in the day, some of the most fervent advocates of Liberty, albeit not what some would describe as 'pure libertarians', were Calvinists. Patrick Henry (Presbyterian), Samuel Adams (Congregationalist), John Locke (later a deist), Adam Smith (also leaned deist), etc. Some modern day Calvinists that support Ron Paul, but are not full fledged libertarians, are Reverend RC Sproul, Jr., Reverend Steven Wilkins, Gary North, and Randy Winton.

Some of our most classically liberal presidents were also Calvinists.

Martin van Buren
Grover Cleveland (Ron Paul's favorite president)
Calvin Coolidge

To be fair, some of our least classically liberal presidents were Calvinists as well.

Theodore Roosevelt
Woodrow Wilson

(These men were considered 'progressives', but in my opinion were just typical establishmentarian warmongering statists.)

Keimh3reg Peh2u Meg

Yes it is all about sales

selling Ron Paul's message and policies.
Always show respect.

I got into a twitter convo with half a dozen Romney supporters the other day.
We agreed we all liked Dan Hannan and Margaret Thatcher - common ground. They were surprised I didn't like David Cameron.
I gave them a link to Dan Hannan's recent CPAC speech.

One of them agreed to take a look at some of my blog and come back to me with his thoughts.
And a couple of others were interested.
One of them said - after about an hour. Hey you're not a Romney supporter - convo finished. It says on my profile I support Ron Paul.
You cannot win them all but you can win some.

I cannot vote for Ron Paul as I am from the UK.
But I figure persuading some American's to vote for him is just as good.

"In the end, more than they wanted freedom, they wanted security. They wanted a comfortable life, and they lost it all -- security, comfort, and freedom. When ... the freedom they wished for was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free."

I fight the urge to be condescending...and usually lose.

Part of love is telling people the truth, even if it is something people don't want to hear. Dr. Paul does that.

I threw away what could have been a valuable friendship over politics when I was young. Now that I am no longer young, I have neocon friends and liberal friends and I don't try to sway them. I wait for them to bring up Dr. Paul, then I clarify whatever misconception has. I focus on how much I care about them, not whether what I am saying will hurt their opinion of me. I hope that is what you are saying; but, if not, so what?

Thanks for sharing.

Thank you for this wisdom Robin.

I will take it to heart and mind!

Reacting to hostile comments

This is a wonderful article.
Every time I go out and interact with the public, I violate these principles that you explain so clearly. Not on purpose, that's for sure.

The shocking words of bias, hysteria and misinterpretation which dominated out there in the "real world" is more than my little mind can sort out in 1/4 of a second. Over and over again I say the wrong thing! I RESPOND, instead of regrouping. I ARGUE, instead of looking for common ground.
And then I come home and lick my wounds, ashamed. Sometimes it's days before I feel able to go out and try again.

I'm quite sure this is why so many folks don't want to go door to door. Sign waves mean you are interacting with those who basically agree with you. Interacting with the general public means having to quickly think of ways to explain what is so obvious here, and so unimaginable out there.

This is a great piece you wrote, Robin, and so easy to read. Living it will take trying again and again and again.

Thank You!

It's rare I find an article that makes me seriously think like this one did. The truth and wisdom in it can be felt intuitively.

I find myself living in such a state of perpetual anger and frustration lately, I really needed to be reminded of how unproductive it is when interacting with others.

Thank you, Mr. Koerner.

I understand sales, but it is

I understand sales, but it is ever so hard to change the minds of people who eat fox news for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
For those tv watchers, endless wars, a big government police state and fiat currency is de rigueur, and until the priniciples of peace, personal freedom, and sound money become the "norm" of those tv broadcasters and radio hosts, the deep deep chasm that separates us from them will never meet.

So Important! I must learn this, thank you!

It is a concept that cuts across in other areas of life! It's very cool, and what we want is to come together!
This is a skill I admire in others, Adam the Man comes to mind!

Thank you. Well written piece

badly needed for RP supporters. I just add three things.

1) Regarding sticking to the principles: if you believe in individual liberty, then you must allow other people to be wrong (without calling them names) or to be left alone. If people are allowed to be left alone, they will NATURALLY have their own "truth." You cannot jam your "truth" into throats of others. Therefore, truths are many, liberty is one.

2) Ron Paul is saying the same thing for decades. Many subtle things are not elaborated. Some would spend time and energy going to books of Libertarians & supporters of free-market. Others (to our disaster) are filling the gap by parroting word-for-word from Alex Jones, Gerald Celente, former CIA agents, youtube half-baked clips.

3) What need to be incorporated into perspective:
A. People always look if their personal interest is at stake - thus, affirmative-action recipients would not like free-market competition (they like AA); trade unions either (they like job security & perks); professors are the same (they like tenure.)
B. On the bright side, majority of people are "followers" by nature (that is our hope, to persuade key players.)

Very good advice, and I've

Very good advice, and I've managed to sway a lot of GOP supporters to Obama's side with those tactics.


Take a hike

dave anderson

On the contrary; we're the

On the contrary; we're the winning side!

Nothing like a little comic relief.

Thank-you Evil Warlord.

You know, you remind me of Lord Dark Helmet from "Space Balls". Your father, perhaps?

Yes, in fact that may come to be your new name here: Lord Dark Helmet, Jr.

Television: Why do you think they call it "programming"?

You remind me of the guy who

You remind me of the guy who supports the guy who lost a presidential election.

If you're going to dish it out...

A brilliantly written piece

This really gets to the heart of what education is. People should all read Dale Carnigie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People" It will open your eyes to communicating with and respecting people.



the speech at Boise State U, Idaho is an excellent primer, too!

Predictions in due Time...

"Let it not be said that no one cared, that no one objected once it's realized that our liberties and wealth are in jeopardy." - Dr. Ronald Ernest Paul

check out this post i did

check out this post i did earlier, it is a 4 part series of documentaries done by the BBC. They talk about how public relations and marketing were created and how they manipulate the public and how governments adopted it.

Very well written Robin!

I wholeheartedly agree. Glad to have you on our side.

"I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else where I was capable of thinking for myself." - Thomas Jefferson

Kathleen G.'s picture

Hear, Hear!

Absolutely 100% correct in every way.

Thank you for your eloquence.

Great Article

This will be a game changer if every Paul supporter were to read this.

reedr3v's picture

Thank you Robin. Your wisdom is a shining

example to us all.