I have just finished reading Gandhi’s autobiography. Gandhi’s persuasion achievement was bringing all Indian leaders together in his Satyagraha movement – non-violent non-cooperation. How did he do this? How did he bring together different religions, different regions, different dress codes under one umbrella movement?
How Did Gandhi Move People To Unified Action?
Gandhi wasn’t interested in being “right”, he was interested in achieving his objectives. He never got caught up in debating games, and remained clear on his big objective. Aristotle described the objective of persuasive argument as being to move people to action, not to be right. This is a vital distinction. The arguments in a persuasive speech need to be enough to move the audience, not just to demonstrate total logical correctness. Gandhi was never interested in just being right – he was interested in progress.
Without action, you aren’t going anywhere.
Gandhi’s highest value was Ahimsa, the principle of nonviolence towards all living things. His specific aim was to remove systematic mistreatment of poor people (specifically by corrupt hierarchical officials) and to protect those who could not protect themselves.
So how did he do it? With the following 19 strategies, which you too can utilize:
1. Understand Human Nature
People don’t resist change, they resist being changed. Most people take some time to change their mind – allow them to change at their own pace, don’t get angry and aggressive if it takes a little time. All ideas must face some resistance.
2. Avoid Preaching
An ounce of patience is worth more than a tonne of preaching.
You need to provide the minimum arguments and evidence to move people to take some action. You don’t need to convert them to your cause for life. Don’t push for too much.
Honest differences are often a healthy sign of progress.
I believe that nobody ever does anything really stupid – everyone has their own reasons. Each of us sees the world in a way that makes our current action valid. What are others seeing that you are not seeing? What are they not seeing that you do see? Communicate your differences.
4. Seek to Understand
It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.
Ask lots of questions. Seek to understand the world view of the others. Seek to reflect back to them what they are seeing, how they are feeling, who they trust.
5. Stay Calm
Nobody can hurt me without my permission.
The sure way to block change is allowing emotions to get out of hand. The moment that emotions become strong, blood flow reduces to the frontal cortex and people get locked into an animalistic fight or flight mode. If you aim to change, you need to speak to the frontal cortex – make sense and stay calm.
6. Let Go Of Details
The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.
Don’t get stuck in a fight over every single issue. Accept some issues as complex and move on to the ones where you can make it simple and clear. Sometimes a shift back to the agenda, or asking a big overall question to raise the level of the debate out of a small issue is the best course of action.
7. Celebrate Those That Already Agree
Who is already with you? Raise their status and let the world know that you are proud to have them on your side.
8. Accept The Fence Sitters
The great majority are probably sitting on the fence. Acknowledge that they are wise, that it is good that they take their time to decide. Accept that they may have some valid concerns about your proposal. Be more passionate about the importance of choosing a good path than about the path you propose.
9. Love the person, attack the argument
An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.
And those who argue against you? The hostile audience members? Learn to love the person and attack the argument. The person who questions your view will help you clarify your own reasoning.
10. Really Know the Person
See the good in people and help them.
There is a an expression in the world of chess: that you can learn more about Grandmaster Kasparov by studying Karpov, his great rival. Our enemies hold us to the highest standards. Get to know them. Get to see the world from their point of view. If you don’t understand something, there might be an area that you are blind to. Be very careful of dismissing out of hand arguments that you can’t “get” yet.
11. Stay Humble
Change yourself – you are in control.
This is not about one side winning and the other side losing, this is about groups working through a process to improve the answer. Use the process to improve your case, to improve your own understanding of its pros and cons – do not celebrate victory, enjoy the path to greater clarity.
12. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
Repeat your simple, clear arguments over and over. Do not expect the audience to get it because you said it once.
13. Use Next-Level Arguments
Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.
Audiences are wiser than I often initially think. They have already reflected on the simple arguments. People know that staying healthy is good, yet they still eat fat and don’t exercise. It is not knowing more about health that will make them take action, it is something deeper. Find that argument that speaks to the next, deeper level.
14. Acknowledge All Good Points
It gives you credibility when you accept the validity of the opposition’s good points. Your aim is to get action, not to show 100% rightness. Be open in accepting that they have a valid point when they do.
15. Frame Your Argument With Metaphors
Metaphors are a powerful shift of perspective. Find simple metaphors that work in the world of the audience. Debate is sailing, not driving a car. You can’t drive directly into the wind – you have too adapt to the conditions.
16. Tell Stories
When I was in debating club as a 16-year-old school boy, I would justify my losses as being due to stupid audiences – not because I was unable to communicate in a manner that reached them. Now I know that I wasn’t telling compelling enough stories. Stories are important to keep audiences engaged.
17. Simple Personal Examples
Be the change that you want to see in the world.
Gandhi always traveled in third class rail carriages. He could afford more, but he wanted to experience the real life of those he represented.
18. Stay Simple
As soon as you get complex, you lose. You might impress yourself, but you alienate the rest. If you can’t explain your cause to a child, you don’t understand it well enough yet.
19. Stay Trustworthy
We finish with trustworthiness, because it is the most important. Where there is no trust, the words will not be heard.
There was a time in South Africa when thousands of poor Indians were forced to move from a township because of plague. They stored all their wealth by burying it. They were worried about it being stolen and knew no other way to keep it safe. The only person they trusted was Gandhi. In the end his office accepted to take care of all their money. 60,000 rand was handed in to his office into his keeping. A huge sum for these poor people in the 1900s.
Gandhi consistently tested himself and practiced ever greater self-restraint as he grew older. Initially he practiced with his diet – constantly restricting his food to vegetables, then only raw fruits and nuts. His practice of self-restraint and consistent actions in favor of the poor allowed millions to trust his every word and see positive meaning in his every action.
The devil is the details. If I can’t trust myself not to eat dessert after dinner, can I trust myself in leadership? As the pies get bigger, you need to have greater and greater levels of self-restraint in order to be trustworthy.
Featured photo credit: Conor Neill via flickr.com