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Spock vs The Preacher (You can’t Argue Logic with Emotion)

December 10, 2012

Ever been in a discussion with someone who simply will not listen to reason? Any of us who have siblings, or parents, or children have probably had that conversation multiple times. The problem might not be with your logic, but with your emotions.

I spent two years as a missionary for the Mormon church. I had the opportunity to hold literally hundreds of religious discussions. I came to realize something. . .Mr Spock would NEVER join the Mormon church. Okay, I never actually had a conversation with THE Mr. Spock, or Leonard Nimoy for that matter, but it became obvious to me that logic and religion don’t mix. (Stay with me, here. It all comes back to business in a few minutes.)

The Bible explains that “Faith is the substance of things hope for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Paul’s epistle to the Hebrews, Chapter 11, verse 1.) I’m not a Bible scholar and I certainly would not argue anyone else’s interpretation of scripture, but what this meant to me was that “Faith” and “Fact” were NOT possible at the same time. In a simple example, if I show you a closed fist and tell you that there’s a coin inside, you have to, based on what you know of me decide if you believe. (I’m interchanging faith and belief.) But, if I open my hand and SHOW you the coin and then close my hand around it, and then tell you that I have a coin in my hand, you don’t have to have faith in me. You know what you saw.

If I were trying to build up your faith in me, showing you the coin first wouldn’t help that at all. However, if I showed you the closed fist first, you have to decide how much you trust me.

And faith and trust are emotions.

If I try to use logic to convince you that I have a coin in my hand, I’m probably going to fail.

And that’s the point. Using logic to convince someone of an emotional argument is doomed to failure.

I spent many years helping companies move their email systems between Microsoft Exchange, and Novell Groupwise. These discussions don’t evoke as much emotion any more, but there was a time where people arguing over email platforms was pretty intense.

I would often be brought in at the beginning of the negotiations, typically by someone who was championing a change, one way or the other. Our conversations would go something like this.

“I need you to give me ammunition so that I can convince my boss to switch to GroupWise. I’ve been trying for months with no success. I showed him that it’s faster and safer, and has more functionality.”

“What objection does your boss have to GroupWise?”

“He once heard Bill Gates speak at a trade show and is convinced that Microsoft is great.”

“No amount of charts and facts and figures is going to convince him to switch to GroupWise.”

See, the boss had an emotional attachment to Microsoft and just like trying to disprove the existence of God, there was no logic that was going to convince him otherwise.

I’ve also seen the conversation go the other way.

“I know the spreadsheets show that moving to Exchange makes financial sense, but we shouldn’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because Microsoft is evil!”

Back to my missionary experience, some of my fellow missionaries would seek out those with whom they could “Bible bash.” That’s where each side appeals to the Bible to prove their point. Don’t believe that God the Father and Jesus Christ are the same person? What about the first few scriptures of the Gospel of John? Oh you DO believe they are the same person? What about Jesus’s baptism where God the Father was in heaven, Jesus was in the water and the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove?

Those discussions never “proved” anything. Ultimately what you believe is based on faith, and no amount of “proof” will sway you.

The same thing is true for discussions that we have in business. If someone is convinced of something based on facts, then an appeal to emotion will fall on deaf ears. Likewise if they believe something based on emotion, no amount of Excel spreadsheets will convince them that Microsoft is NOT evil.

Properly match your responses to your opponent’s objections and you will greatly improve the effectiveness of your conversations.

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