How Not To Influence Someone

Dr. Seuss Zax

I made the mistake recently with my wife as we had a conversation about each other’s beliefs, which included religion. It created a situation where it was like Dr. Seuss’s book, the Zax – minus the messy hair and hairy bodies. Well at least minus that for my wife. Me on the other hand…

The Zax are two individuals whose stubbornness creates an impasse. Each is trying to move forward, but one is in front of the other preventing progress. One Zax always travels north and the other Zax always travels south. As the story progresses, a highway is built around and over them and in the end, they are stuck, unable to move forward.

Don’t Get Stuck

When you’re trying to influence someone, I’ve learned (and continue to learn) that speaking from my own point of view rarely, if ever, moves the conversation forward to a point of greater understanding. It’s like trying to get a radio to play a station with the wrong frequency. There’s just nothing but static.

The static seems to come from stubbornness, just like the Zax who would not move aside for the other or change direction. As humans, we like to find patterns in things and when we get a belief about something, we drive the steak in the ground and cement those beliefs and over time, it’s like a giant anchor encased in cement.

My philosophy right now is to chip away at all my beliefs that are anchored in and re-evaluate everything. My naivety comes from thinking my wife would just do the same and we’d be able to take this approach side by side. However, we are not the same – no two of us humans are. From my experience, it seems most everyone of us have different thoughts and ideas and rarely can we just speak our ideas to people and make an instant connection.

Perhaps that’s why Seth Godin talks about tribes and why they form. People want those who share their same ideas for the sense of connection and purpose it brings.

Start With Where They Are

Jim Rohn said it best (paraphrased), “To really affect someone, start with where they are before you take them where you want them to go. If they’re in the hurt, you have to start in the hurt. If they’re in trouble, you have to start with the trouble.”

That’s sound advice looking at the results I’ve had in my life when I speak from my own perspective. If I take that advice, and also realize that most people have heavy anchors cemented solidly with their beliefs, then I know it’s nigh impossible to simply influence someone by just spouting off my philosophies of the way I think things should be.

Back to my wife – her belief is that religion makes her feel good and she enjoys the community and friendships she has there. She also firmly believes that it’s true and does not need to spend time on some of the questions I am asking. After all, if it’s true, then anything said would just be fabrication or a lie right?

New Approach

If I continue my approach of influence from my own perspective, my wife is likely to take her shoes and throw them at me a-la George W. Bush. And who could blame her? It’s like an army invading a country and forcing them to live a different way than they are accustomed. Only bad things can ensue from that.

To really make it work, I’ve got to shift from talking to listening. It’s not my first instinct to listen and I’m sure many of you might feel the same way. It takes preparation before hand and a real and earnest concentration to truly listen and see something from someone else’s point of you. If I’m going to make this work, then I believe that’s the best first step.

Can It Work?

Can I influence my wife where I’ve now developed a much different philosophy of religion? Maybe to influence her, I shouldn’t try to influence her at all. I can show a willingness to work with her and see things from her perspective. I can speak in terms of her language and understand from her point of view. Wouldn’t that make you feel better if some people did that for you?

I’m optimistic that it will work. That’s my nature. In my opinion, something as abstract as religion shouldn’t come between people, but unfortunately it does. What we can do as individuals is have an open mind and take the extra time and effort to see the perspective of the person we are trying to influence. This seems to be a worthy first step.

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5 thoughts on “How Not To Influence Someone

  1. I’ve never heard the story of the Zax before … I like it!

    I like the idea of meeting someone “where they are” … I’ve noticed that too many people give advice that’s based on what THEY would do, not on what they think YOU should do based on your own values/priorities/etc. Being in the practice of meeting people where they are, and seeing the world from their eyes, is a great way to be a better listener and advice-giver.

    1. Paula, thanks for your first visit here. Dr. Seuss has some great stories, if you’ve ever heard of the Sneetches, that might be one to check out as well.

  2. As I’ve read somewhere, Google must be a woman; it knows everything!
    More seriously about your wife’s religious beliefs, I wouldn’t mess with that. Have you seen the youtube video series “why i am no longer a christian”? It’s 3 hours long, beautifully constructed from the perspective of a former christian, in particular there’s an explanation at some point on how religious belief is constructed, it is like a network, like internet, composed of several nodes. Which means that anytime one of the nodes is attacked (one argument, or question, your wife can be exposed to) the rest of the nodes are untouched and the network continues to function until it repairs itself (often by forgetting all about the argument)
    Anyway I don’t know if I wish on someone to lose his/her faith, because honestly we have only one life and if they’re fine believing fairy tales, what’s the big deal, as long as they don’t impose their belief on me.. huh.. I see what’s your problem, if that person lives with you and expect you do things the way what she believes orders you to.. Big problem in the long term :-)
    Anyway if you want to have a look at the series for yourself, just for fun, you can watch a playlist on this site, and it also has lots of documentaries, which I like:

    Bye and good luck, I wish I could also answer your post about the degree and the daily job, but I’m going to sleep and tomorrow I don’t know if I’ll happen to get to your site again, I don’t think so, but who knows..

    1. Hi James, thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. You’ve given me another perspective to look at and analyze for the future.

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