How to Use Storytelling When Facts Fail to Convince Someone

Photo: fizkes, Shutterstock
Photo: fizkes, Shutterstock

Not all arguments are worth your time and energy. In some cases — like when someone fundamentally disagrees with you — there’s nothing you can say or do to change their mind. But in other instances, it’s entirely possible to make your case and get someone to agree with (or at least understand) your point of view. Instinctually, you may rely on facts or stats to do your convincing, but statistics can be easily manipulated, and not everyone responds well to information being thrown at them. As it turns out, telling a good story may be the key to winning people over. Here’s what you need to know.

How to Change Someone’s Mind

It seems everyone prefers digging their heels in and remaining steadfast in their opinions (even if they happen to be, say, scientifically invalid and disproven), so the idea of changing someone’s mind about something feels pretty close to impossible. Of course, not everyone has to agree with you on everything,...

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Why storytelling?

In a recent study published in the journal Communication Reports, researchers played a short clip of a radio interview for participants featuring a 66-year-old man from North Carolina — an avid hunter and fisherman — talking about how he’s been personally impacted by climate change. It included lines like this one:

“Trout require cold, clear, clean water. Places that I’ve trout fished in the past that used to hold lots of fish are warming, and the fish just aren’t there like they used to be. It makes me very, very sad.”

After hearing his story, participants who identified as being either conservative or moderate reported being more concerned about climate change, and more convinced that it was being caused by humans. The researchers found that the people who experienced feelings of worry and compassion while listening to the interview clip ended up changing their minds the most.

These findings are similar to those from a study published in the journal Environmental Politics in July, which involved analysing the content of Congressional floor speeches on climate change between 1996 and 2015. Turns out, Democrats approached the issue armed with facts and scientific evidence, while Republicans relied on storytelling, including imagery and emotion. The researchers concluded that Republicans were “communicating in ways that may ultimately be more effective.”

The takeaway here is that people appear to be more responsive to personal narratives than they are to stats. So the next time you try to use science or logic to convince someone of something, try weaving the facts and figures into a compelling story.

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