How to Win a Thanksgiving Debate

It’s tempting to believe that customers come to your website, carefully read, review and weigh your offering, and then make informed decisions.

What actually happens is that customers form opinions in a fraction of a second, establish emotional commitments to those opinions, and then seek out and organize facts to support what they want to believe. That reflex customers have to seek out affirmations of their existing opinions is called confirmation bias.

Confirmation Bias at Thanksgiving

Confirmation bias is also what makes political arguments with your Uncle Dave so exhausting. Uncle Dave has spent years organizing facts that support what he wants to believe and dismissing facts (consciously and unconsciously) that don’t jive with those opinions. Confirmation bias has a snowball effect on long-held opinions, making them incredibly difficult to change.

So, what do we do about Uncle Dave this Thanksgiving? If you want to change his mind, you are in for an uphill challenge. For best results, let decision science guide you. This Thanksgiving, bring tribalism, the illusion of explanatory depth, empathy, and new information to the dinner table.

Step 1: Go Tribal

What are you and Uncle Dave both passionate about? You both love motorcycles? Perfect. Before he can get around to bringing up politics–the second you see Uncle Dave, get a great conversation going about the finite details of motorcycling. Bask in your shared experiences.

Passionate conversation builds a sense of tribalism. Instead of coming to the political conversation as members of opposite tribes, you will kick it is off as members of an alliance. You’re a motorcycle gang now. You have each other’s backs. You’re off to a great start.

Sharing mutual experiences also enhances your likability, which is a powerful force for persuasiveness.

Now you can, cautiously, step into the political discussion.

Step 2: Interrogate

Research has revealed two truths that can work in your favor:

  1. Most people assume they understand the world in far greater detail than they do.
  2. People tend to rate their understanding of a subject significantly lower after they try to explain it.
This is called The Illusion of Explanatory Depth.

Here’s how to you use it. Instead of challenging everything Uncle Dave says, ask him to explain it. How does that work Uncle Dave? Be respectful in your questioning–remember, likability is your ally. As Dave makes valid points, or you find any common ground, take a moment to concede those points. Respectfully show him how concession works.

Resist the urge to offer up contrary arguments at this point.

Step 3: Establish Empathy

Assuming you’ve survived steps 1 and 2, you may have established trust with Uncle Dave. Now is your chance to help him empathize with your point of view.

Ask Uncle Dave to explain your side of the argument. The more detail he can provide the better.

As the words come out of his mouth, instead of yours, a funny thing will happen. He will make and reinforce logical connections in his head and establish some empathy for your POV.

Step 4: Create Healthy Distance

Particularly during a heated debate, people tend to amplify the degree to which their beliefs define them.

Help Uncle Dave build distance between himself and his problematic beliefs by reminding him about other important things in his life. Try weaving Uncle Dave’s other (positive) behaviors, traits, passions, and relationships into the conversation whenever you spot an opportunity.

Step 5: Change the Game

It would take a Herculean effort for most people to admit that their long-held beliefs were wrong the whole time. So, you need to give Uncle Dave an out. Introduce some new underlying information, something that has not always been a factor, that changes everything.

Having been through steps 1-3, Uncle Dave will be more open to considering new information. So be ready with something good!

Will This Really Work?

Uncle Dave is a tough nut to crack. It’s possible but challenging.

However, your potential customers are much more open to changing their minds about your offering than Uncle Dave is about politics. Next time you’re trying to change a customer’s mind, try these five steps. You will improve your chances.