May 22, 2017 / Esther Choy

Connie was balancing a deviled egg when Uncle Rupert turned away from his conversation with her cousin Aurelia and roped her in. It was a boiling hot June day, and Connie’s entire extended family, with few exceptions, had gathered to celebrate her younger brother’s graduation from his master’s program.

“Connie. Set Aurelia straight. Don’t you think your brother has much better job prospects now that Trump is in office? Putting America first can only help. Now we can all buy American and hire American—now that the elitists can’t tell us how we’re ‘global citizens,’ and the illegals and foreign refugees can’t steal our jobs…”

Connie was glad she wasn’t chewing at the moment—she might’ve choked. Taking a deep breath, and remembering that Uncle Rupert had always been kind to her and made her laugh when she was growing up, she tried to shift into his perspective and give a respectful but thought provoking answer. She hoped her answer would change his mind.

Shifting to Our Audience’s Perspective

Whether we are navigating dicey conversations at a family event or persuading a business audience with radically different ideas from us, the ability to shift perspectives is essential.

If we want to persuade others, we’ve got to see the world from their vantage point. And to do that well, we first have to know the viewpoints our audience has expressed, and then dig deeper to understand the moral or ethical framework underlying those viewpoints. The Uncle Ruperts in our lives make their viewpoints clear. But it’s often hard to figure out what motivates such viewpoints.

A recent study from Matthew Feinberg of the University of Toronto and Robb Willer of Stanford found that people’s political stance flows from their ethical framework. The stand that conservatives take on, say, immigration, might flow from their values of loyalty and patriotism. For liberals, their stand on this issue might flow from ideas about reciprocity between countries, or caring.

Your friends and relatives may voice an opinion on a heated topic without even realizing that loyalty or caring has led them to the opinion they hold. What appears to be a disagreement about political ideas is actually a fundamental disagreement over which ethical systems should govern politics.

An Offer, Not a Blame-Game

When, like Connie, we hope our friends or relatives will change their minds, it’s important to make an offer rather than blaming.

The Atlantic article reporting on Feinberg and Willer’s study begins with an example in which someone tweeted that “history will judge us very harshly” for the first executive order banning immigrants from seven countries.

How could that be reframed as an offer to a loved one who disagrees—rather than blaming them?

Here’s how the Atlantic article does it:
These refugees and immigrants are just like our family members who came to America in years past to seek a better life…. That dream is what our nation was founded on, it is what brought our grandparents and great-grandparents to this great land, and it is the great success story that these immigrants want to be a part of.

This would be a starting point of making an offer instead of blaming.

This phrasing invites the person to reimagine the situation. And notice all the patriotic language: the phrase “this great land,” and the references to success stories and the American dream.

However… even if we know where our audience is coming from, we may feel that the underlying framework itself needs to be questioned. For instance, I would take the refugee example a step further. The argument couched in patriotism is much improved, but it doesn’t get at the core issue unless it addresses the need to truly care for those who are different from us. So, if the executive order (or any other hot topics since January this year) came up at a family event, I would craft an offer to move toward deeper compassion:

Remember how our grandparents came to the U.S.? You know all those stories about how they longed for freedom and opportunities, and how hard they worked when they got here? These refugees and immigrants are so much like them. And in our grandparents’ stories, they are never alone, trying to make it all by themselves. They talk about how people in their immigrant community and outside of it helped them. Now we can be those people outside of the immigrant community that help this generation of immigrants. We might even end up in their stories!

What This Means in the Business Realm?

When it comes to business presentations, we may think the decision we’re about to reveal to our team is obviously the best choice—it’s just self evident, right? But how has our own moral framework guided our decision-making? We may think that the new project we want clients to buy into is the logical next step—it’s just common sense! Duh! But is this project actually aligned with our client’s values as well as our own?

Without understanding what our audience most values, we may say things that contradict their values. Or we may say things that simply fall on deaf ears because they are outside of the person’s core values.

So consider your target audience. Not everybody in the room. Just your target. What do they value? Show empathy by taking time to think this through. Take time to demonstrate that you know where they’re coming from.

My new book, Let the Story Do the Work, includes an exercise called “Look Who’s Listening” that will help you explore strategic points of view. Pre-order it today! And you can always feel free to schedule a complimentary communication training consultation today. Or, for more tips and insights on storytelling, sign up for our Guide to Better Storytelling.

And you can always feel free to schedule a complimentary communication training consultation today. Or, for more tips and insights on storytelling, sign up for our Guide to Better Storytelling.

Photo credit: John Spade via

#communicationstraining #storytellingculture #businessstorytelling #LettheStoryDotheWork #targetaudience #BusinessCommunication

Esther Choy

Esther Choy founded Leadership Story Lab in 2010 to help others leverage the art of storytelling to create extraordinary opportunities.
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