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Learning To Be Persuasive?

Dr. Chris and Alisa Grace pose for the cover of The Art of Relationships Podcast.


Chris Grace:                  Welcome to the Art of Relationships Podcast, I'm Chris Grace.

Tim Muehlhoff:             And I'm Tim Muehlhoff.

Chris Grace:                  Tim Muehlhoff is one of leading communications experts out there in the area. Tim, you've been teaching and speaking in this area all over the country. You've got some great published materials in the area of communication.

My area is in psychology. My PhD is in social psych. One of the awesome opportunities that you and I get is to sit here and talk about pertinent, relevant issues related to everything about relationships.

Tim Muehlhoff:             Because people want to talk about relationships. Because it affects every part of their lives. You can't get away from it.

Chris Grace:                  So, we have so much to talk about throughout the weeks that sometimes it's hard just to limit it to one topic. We're going to approach a number of topics. But let me just challenge anybody that's listening today. Go to our website, and check out all the events, topics, some blogs, and other podcasts that we've done. It's a great opportunity I think to explore some of these things that we get to talk about on a regular basis.

But Tim today, one, I thought maybe we could talk about is in the area of persuasion and in the area of talking with somebody else, there is something that you've been able to do recently and that is do some writing on this with a colleague. I'd like to talk today a little bit about its impact and how we can tie that in to the art of relationships. So, why don't you start?

Tim Muehlhoff:             That sounds great. Well, one of the fun things about our job that we enjoy the most is you get to do it with your friends. This podcast is a blast for us to do it. It gets tiring carrying you as much as I do. But no, it's fun.

I got a chance to write with a good friend of ours, Dr. Rick Langer and he teaches at Biola. He's in charge of our Office of Faith and Learning here at Biola. We wrote a book called Winsome Persuasion: Christian Influence in a Post-Christian World. But the topic is one that we think is important because of today's incivility that we're seeing today of how harshly people talk to each other.  We've got to find different ways of talking to each other.

A study was done two years, where 69% of Americans feel like we've reached crisis levels of incivility with each other. So, in any relationship, a marriage, roommate relationships, certainly a family relationship, there's going to come a time where people just flat out disagree with each other. There's going to come a time that you want to persuade a person that in fact, I think I'm right. I think we ought to do this. I think this is the direction that we ought to go.

We want to do that in a way that's winsome and engaging and civil and yet emotions are involved, passions are involved. So, we thought it would be fun to kick around this podcast. How do you actually set out to influence a person? Be it a spouse, family member, or a roommate in a way that is engaging and civil and kind and different things like that especially in today's harsh world of social media and political discourse and stuff like that. Sound fun? Want to take that?

Chris Grace:                  I think it's great. I think it's a great topic because we have to eventually answer the question, how do we have conversations in all of our relationships? In which there might be some disagreements or there might be ways in, which we want to maintain, not just polite discourse. But we want to connect with others deeply and yet we also have opportunities to really find some differences that could pull up some harsh difficult emotions that we're dealing with. How do we do that well?

Tim Muehlhoff:             We're losing examples of this. That's what's so crazy today about our commentary that we're looking in the political realm and how people approach disagreements today. It's kind of hard to find good examples of how people can do this. And depending on the family that you grew up in, you might not have any good examples of how do you have a good, productive passionate disagreement and it's not the end of the world? It doesn't mean your marriage is bad. Doesn't mean the family's bad. But you're about to have a pretty passionate disagreement about what we should do about finances, kid's schedules, different stuff like that. Let's set a little bit of background. Okay. I'm going to drop a little Aristotle on you, Chris Grace.

Chris Grace:                  All right.

Tim Muehlhoff:             Come on, baby. So, Aristotle said that, "The most important thing about you is your reputation heading into a conversation." What that person thinks about you as you head into it. Now, this is huge if it's your roommate. It's huge if it's your spouse because guess what? You have a reputation, right?

Chris Grace:                  Right.

Tim Muehlhoff:             That person knows you. Isn't it great when you're dating Chris? When you're dating, it's awesome. The other person thinks you're great. You think the other person's great and it's just like you're a wonderful, marvelous person. But when you actually live with a person, they see your good, your bad, your inconsistencies.

So, Aristotle said, "Heading into this disagreement, what this person thinks about you is really going to determine how much you can persuade that kind of a person." He called it, ethos. It's just your credibility heading into the conversation.

Like for example Chris, you and I, if you and I are having a disagreement about home projects. What's the best way to use power tools? Knowing what you know of me, what's my level of credibility heading into our conversation about power tools and how to do a home project?

Chris Grace:                  Well, to be kind, I would probably call your wife Noreen and ask her how to maybe do a project. It's not saying anything rude to you. I just simply know you don't have a high amount of expertise in this area, let's say. The bandages, the broken things have all proven that to be the case.

Tim Muehlhoff:             So, what's so funny Chris is honestly, I had a friend come over and help me put up a basketball hoop one time in our garage because our kids played that. They loved to play basketball. He came over and he said, "Hey, get your tools out." So, all I had was a pink do-it-herself tool kit that Noreen had and every tool had a pink handle.

You and I can have a passionate disagreement about power tools and how to do a project. But the whole time you're thinking, but Tim, I know you don't know much about power tools. So, regardless how articulate I am, eloquent, the whole time you're thinking, okay if this was a different issue. I might listen to you but because this is power tools man, Tim, I know a little about you.

So, here's what Aristotle said are the three areas of credibility that you need to really think about before you head into a situation. Number one he called intelligence, which means do you know what you're talking about? Have you researched and understand both sides of the issue, not just your side of the issue? Could you if asked, sit down and actually present your spouse's perspective on this particular issue? Could you present one of your kids what they think about this issue or a roommate? So, you know your perspective, you're locked and loaded, passionate. But can you do the perspective of the other person to such a degree that that person would say, "Okay, that's a fair representation of what I feel?" A lot of people can do their side but they can't do the other person's side.

Chris Grace:                  I think Tim, it's helpful to start thinking that way whenever you challenge people who are dealing with conflict; whether it's a parent with a child, whether it's roommates, whether it's spouses, friends. One of the things that's hard to do is they seem to grasp at least at an intellectual level some of the arguments or differences that they might be having or they might even be able to represent the other person's side or point of view.

But there seems to something off or a lack there. They don't seem just simply in my experience, much of a depth of emotion that's connected to. So, I could say, "Well, you seem to say this, this, and this." I get that but it's devoid of the emotional depth that the other person is feeling it and that seems to be where some of the breakup or problem comes in when you have conflict is really you might understand at one level, it may be an intellectual level. But at that heart level, which is where a lot of people seem to want to be heard understood and where they operate.

Tim Muehlhoff:             Chris, I really agree with that: To think about why we might do that. I might head into a conversation with my wife or a child of mine and think ... Now, I know you feel passionately about this issue and I know it's a huge deal to you emotionally but it shouldn't be. This should not be a big deal. I'm not going to give credence to your emotions because I think your emotions are overblown, which doesn't help at all when you get into this conflict of conversation.

Chris Grace:                  No, because we run into the risk anytime we're in conflict with somebody else and we want to have this conversation and as you mentioned this need to understand where the other person is coming from. As we maybe don't understand the depth of their emotion or we deny it or we almost dismiss it, it comes across as dismissive.

That is the other person will feel somewhat judged that they have these depths of feelings when you are feeling and thinking ‘Why would you feel this way? I can't relate to that emotion. You have this deep feeling about some topic, X and I can't manufacture that. I really just either have to question what's going on or dismiss it, in which now starts off the conversation in not a good point to begin with.

Tim Muehlhoff:             I think you're right. In grad school Chris, my dissertation was, I took two different couples who were having a disagreement about something. I had them write out what they actually believed. Then once they wrote it out, they switched it with each other and then they actually did it in first person. So, now I'm representing your viewpoint but I'm doing it in first person, reading your narrative. I asked the other spouse to coach the spouse who was reading the other person's narrative on the emotional side of it.

This one woman Chris, it was great. She said, "Okay. What you just did was really good. But the emotion, I want you to triple it." The guy just looked at her like triple it? She goes, "No, I'm serious. Triple it." That's what we miss sometimes.

I don't think Aristotle had any of this in mind Chris. I think he was talking about the factual side of it. Can you factually present the other person. But we're saying from a psychological standpoint, you may have just derailed the whole conversation because you're minimizing their emotions and not acknowledging it.

Chris Grace:                  Yeah and so Tim, we don't have time to get into that any much further. I want some of these other ideas and points that you're getting at. But I will say there are many times we talk with couples about this and I know you and I have visited about this. That one or the other person simply can't go there because they don't really have a good grasp of their own emotional kind of life and their own heart what's going on. They say, "I'm trying to figure out what you're feeling but I don't really kind of connect my head with my heart as easily as you do."

Now, they're kind of starting off in this deficit where they're missing some of the capacity that the other person might have in feeling or recognizing or even identifying their deep emotions. It reminds me of those studies Tim, where we've taken people who are in conflict and they have simply given a list of emotions that they can use to identify different levels or different kinds of emotions that just simply describe them.

Couples or people, who are in the middle of an argument are stopped right in the middle of it and said, "Hold on, just for a second. I want you to look at this list and identity the emotion you're feeling." What ends up happening is they see this list that for the first time, for some of them, puts into words and really shows in a black and white way, oh, you know when we're arguing about money, I guess I'm really dealing with some security issues or I'm feeling out of control or I'm feeling judged. Even as they say those words that they're reading in front of them for the first time, it begins to make sense and now they're connecting some of what they are thinking with some of what they are feeling. Some people are just better at this than others. We talked a little bit about that.

Tim Muehlhoff:             I think Aristotle's talking about a person's IQ. He's saying, can you factually give me the other argument? You're talking about, if I understand this correctly, is Daniel Goleman, EQ.

Chris Grace:                  Yes.

Tim Muehlhoff:             Explain what an EQ is real quick.

Chris Grace:                  Yeah. Well, emotion intelligence, he's written both a book a emotion intelligence and one on social intelligence, which it probably comes down to not just me and understanding my own particular emotions and how good I am at them, just like I am at thinking through my thoughts in a logical, articulate way and kind of being able to categorize things. But then connecting that with the emotional.

                 But I think the bigger challenge might even be the social intelligence that notion. It's great book that he wrote is, can I read not just my book but can I read yours? Can I read what's happening with you? Am I good at watching and identifying ways in which I can connect or disconnect from other people and do this in a place that's in a relationship, kind of like we're sitting here talking to each other. If something happens, we could read each other non-verbally and go, wait a minute, stop. What's going on here? Or I disagree with that. Because I can see your face that you're expressing emotions and that's kind of this idea of social intelligence.

Tim Muehlhoff:             As a massive quick, little tangent, the problem with social media it's really-

Chris Grace:                  You lose all that. Yep.

Tim Muehlhoff:             ... hard to read the emotion of it.

Chris Grace:                  You lose the channel. There's so many channels out there, non-verbal channels. We pick, look at your eye contact, the length of time that you have eye contact, where you look when you're not looking at me. That's just eyes. Then you have facial expressions, emotions. You have your body language and we're missing all of those non-verbal channels when we're involved in social media, which is the recipe for misunderstandings and misinterpretations of people's emotions.

Tim Muehlhoff:             Okay. So we're talking about trying to persuade a spouse, trying to persuade a roommate, a family member. Aristotle said, "Hey, walk into that room. What's your reputation with this person?" He broke it down into three areas. First we've teen talking about intelligence. But not just knowing the facts but also intelligence is I also know the emotions you've attached to your particular perspective.

His second one is really condicting. It's what he calls virtue. It's this, are you living out a life of integrity? Again, I confront my spouse, let's say lateness. But I'm late all the time. I confront my kids for angry. "Guys, don't talk to each other like that, blow up at each other." But I get made pretty easy and blow up. He would say, "Man, you have to live out this virtuous life."

 If you're talking to another person, you need to understand what's my credibility on this particular topic. If I've not done a good job of managing a credit card, it's going to be pretty hard for me now to sit down with you and confront you and what I think is your misuse of a credit card.

Man, this is a tough one because here's the tough thing about virtue, Chris. You can't fix it in a heartbeat. You can't say, "Oh, okay. Yeah I know, I've had a really bad past in the marriage when I comes to this issue or that issue. But okay now, I promise I'm going to do a really good job starting on three." Well, okay but you don't have any of that virtue yet. You just promise to do it. That's what's hard about marriage sometimes is man, people see your good and your bad and your credibility and your lack of credibility.

Chris Grace:                  Tim, is another way of identifying what Aristotle would call this area a virtue? I'm assuming and I think you agree that this is also something we would also refer to as authenticity. There's no dissonance or there's an authentic relationship between what I am saying and what I am doing. That a trustworthy person, that we want to have speak into our lives, or say something is something that I must call ... They live what they say. They do and act in appropriate ways. The Bible talks a lot about this idea. Let your words be also consonant or in agreement with your actions, right?

Tim Muehlhoff:             Yeah.

Chris Grace:                  I guess is that what you would say is this idea of authenticness about what I am doing and what I am saying.

Tim Muehlhoff:             Yeah and there's a communication theorist who came up with this interesting metaphor. His name is Erving Goffman and he wrote a book called, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. This is what he says, "Man, we're just like a theater. There's the front stage and there's the big stage. The front stage is when we're talking a good game in front of other people like oh, the family should be a priority, right? Your marriage is the most important thing." Chris you and I have occupational hazards because we speak across the country on marriage and I know with Elisa and my wife Noreen and they're often just either standing right next to us, speaking with us or they're in the audience listening to every word we say about, "Husbands, you should love your wives as Christ loved ... "

They're sitting there thinking, but I live with this guy. He's talking a good game up there but his credibility is really low. I love Noreen that when we're at a marriage conference, people walk up and they say, "Oh, it'd be so great to be married to Tim. You must laugh all the time." And Noreen because she's a Godly woman, just lies in the power of the Holy Spirit. She goes, "Oh, you know. We love Tim."

But I don't want to misread this Chris. I can't ever say anything if I don't live a perfect life. All of us are going to have deficiencies. All of us are going to talk about our game than what we're able to pull of. I don't think Aristotle's talking about that. He's talking about blatant gaps. The person I am when I'm at church, right in front of people is a really different person than when I'm at home alone with the kids and the wife. Where I'm a grump and judgmental and short fused. I think Aristotle's saying that gap between the front stage and the back stage needs to be addressed. That's hard. That's a hard issue.

Chris Grace:                  It's a hard issue and of course, we have to set one quick understanding is that all of us experience to some degree or another, a safety, a letting down, a comfortableness when we're away from the public, when we're away in the church crowd, or at work crowd or in public. Then life would be much more difficult if we weren't able to do that. It's a great safe place to be more of me. I'm much more relaxed and even lazy at home and just get to sit there and not have to put on a front. That's a good thing. There isn't going to be a difference between that.

But what we are talking about is during a time of persuasion, a time of conflict, that other person is evaluating us on whether or not on the course of our lifetime, on the course of this situation and this content, is this person really being true to themselves and authentic in the way in which they are both telling me I need to do or change? And what the way they're acting.

Tim Muehlhoff:             Practice what you preach.Just because I'm not necessarily great at finances, just because I'm not great at cleanliness, let's say with your roommate doesn't mean you can never bring up that topic. But I would give a little bit of a preamble. I would say, "Okay, listen. I am not the cleanest person in the world. I recognize that and I own that. But I would like to talk about the state of our apartment as roommates because it's starting to ... " I do think it's good to have a little bit of self-awareness to say, "I know I'm not the greatest when it comes to this but I'd still like to talk about this."

Hey, one other quick tangent. The way this could be misread, what you and I are saying is okay, I know I'm doing a bad job at my backstage. So, I'm going to hide it from my spouse because I don't want to ruin my credibility. This is where I think a porn addiction or you're not doing well financially but now you want to hide it because, man, if I let my spouse see all my weaknesses then my credibility's shot. Man, that's going in a wrong direction what you and I are talking about.

Chris Grace:                  Right. Yeah, I think that's right. I think there's certain times in which the behavior that you're maybe dealing with that you know is going to have a negative impact. There are some times in which it's just important to bring that up at the front, be honest about it, and seek professional help when indeed there are things. For example, I think just again to not go off on a tangent but the whole idea of pornography when a man or a woman are struggling in that area. It can bring so much shame that you want to hide from this. When you do that, you run into certain problems that need to be brought up to the front. What's this-

Tim Muehlhoff:             Aristotle said, "If you're going to try to persuade a person, it's your credibility that's really a huge factor." First, you know what you're talking about. Second, do you live what you preach? Now, the third one is interesting. I think this is the one that's missing so much today Chris. Because for example, I can know both sides of the argument. I can think I'm a virtuous person that I'm living out everything I talk about publicly. But then Aristotle says, "But you still fail if you don't have the third one." The third one is goodwill. I can know both sides of the argument. I can be a virtuous, honest person and I can come across really harsh to other people.

The Book of Proverbs says, "Life and death is in the power of a tongue." I like what Paul says in Galicians, he says, "Okay when a brother is got in a trespass, Paul says. This is Galicians 6:1. So, the guy's been caught. He's in a trespass. Paul says this, "Those of you who are spiritual, I think that's the virtue part of Aristotle. I still want you to restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. The gentleness is the part that we're missing today, I think culturally.

You can be 100% right, you can live out what you believe. But the way you're approaching your spouse or roommate is so harsh in tone, non-verbals, or the way you're characterizing his or her position is just the worst possible version of what he or she believes. Today, we need a good dose of goodwill towards people when we try to talk about ... Which is why the book is called Winsome Persuasion.

Chris Grace:                  It's so interesting Tim that in recent studies on couples that seem to thrive, they are marked by a couple of characteristics. There's marital quality scales and they look at these couples that are doing well. But if you had to really just summarize one or two words about what makes for couples that are really thriving and doing well, one of the keywords that comes in is kindness and generosity along with ...

So, if you can narrow it down to they treat each other with affection, kindness, and generosity, then these couples seem to show all the qualities of a marriage that's thriving and heading towards this place that makes them and others around them more happy and more able to enjoy it. It's just funny that if really this idea of kindness, this idea of generosity is so critical, you can see why Aristotle called this one of the key features of this process because is has such importance in all of our relationships.

Tim Muehlhoff:             Book of Proverbs says, "A gentle word turns away a wrath." Isn't that interesting. This gentleness is not you being a wimp. I think men struggle with this a little bit. What we admire people who speak with conviction and passion and stuff like that. But when it's your spouse, roommate, neighbor, man to start with gentleness and kindness and goodwill as Aristotle used it is believing the best about you. Not the worst but believing ...

 So, Dennis Rainey has this great phrase. He's the founder of FamilyLife marriage conferences. He often says this, "Catch your spouse doing what's right." Because we often go around catching our spouses doing what's not right. "You didn't do this. You didn't do that."

Some of the listeners might be thinking okay, all right. The credibility stuff was helpful but how do I actually organize a conversation. It can't just be my reputation. I actually want to start this thing in a way that's kind and give the conversation a chance to grow and not devolve into an argument. So, what would be some practical tips of how to actually construct a disagreement that's going to be productive, civil, kind, and not devolve into us going to bed with our backs facing each other at night? Sound good? Want to do that?

Chris Grace:                  Yeah, I think it'd be great. I think we can even have a whole new podcast. Why don't we do that? The idea of having some practical steps and ways that we can begin to approach difficult conversations with other people, that we may be in conflict with, maybe it's roommates or just in areas that we want to express some of our feelings and emotions and we want to be heard. Then ways in which we can do this. Tim, I'd love to hear some of the practical things that you have in mind and let's do it.

Tim Muehlhoff:             That sounds great. If you're interested, Winsome Persuasion, feel free to buy 1,000 for the next holiday. The Muehlhoff boys would say thank you.

Chris Grace:                  It's a great book. Winsome Persuasion by Dr. Tim Muehlhoff and Dr. Rick Langer and it's available now at all fine bookstores.

Tim Muehlhoff:             Dining?

Chris Grace:                  Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff:             Amazon has it, InterVarsity Press. Yeah.

Chris Grace:                  It's a great book. Get it. So hey, let's continue this conversation. Thanks for joining us today on the Art of Relationships. Again, we'll talk to you next time.