7 Tips on How to Deal with Passionate Opposition

Passionate opposition is something that you are likely to encounter in business – especially at senior levels! A recent article has given 7 useful tips on how to deal with it in an effective way.

Why passionate opposition is difficult to deal with.

As we have seen in the follow-up to the Brexit vote, when deep-felt beliefs are threatened, the response is often very passionate. There is a tendency for both sides of an argument to label those who disagree with them (“lunatic”, “racist”, “xenophobe”, etc.) However as soon as we label someone, we stop listening to them. Hence facts which support the opposition’s view are often not even heard, or if they do penetrate, they are dismissed as irrelevant.

Not only that, but the more each side argues with the other, especially if they use these labels, the more entrenched the opposing views become. As we have seen since late June, presenting facts in support of your case, is unlikely to resolve the situation. So what can you do?

In a recent article for Harvard Business Review “How to Build an Exit Ramp for Trump Supporters” Professor Deepak Malhotra suggested 7 steps to build a way out for those with entrenched opinions, who are caught in this bind. These steps are equally useful when you face passionate opposition in business, and here is a summary of them:

7 Tips to help Passionate Opponents to change their minds:

  1. Don’t force them to defend their beliefs – you will merely encourage them to become even more entrenched. They will react by seeking any way of dismissing your arguments that they can. You will not change their minds.
  2.  Provide information and give them time – and space. Malhotra says that it is important to give them information without expecting anything in return. Offer them information in a neutral way- e.g. “Here is some information that I have come across. You might find it useful, given your interest in this topic.” You then give them time, because people with entrenched views don’t change their minds during arguments. They revise their views in private, later, when they have had time to reflect.
  3.  Don’t fight bias with bias. Your greatest asset in this is integrity. Where they have a point, admit it – it will show that you are listening to them, not just rejecting their views out of hand. They may not listen to your views at the time, but on reflection later they will respect your fairness and will be more likely to review your information and consider it. For the same reasons, don’t give them partial or misleading information – it will destroy the trust that you need to build.
  4. Don’t force them to choose between their idea and yours. Professor Malhotra says, “More generally, you will be much more effective if you encourage people to reconsider their perspective, without saying that this requires that they adoptIndeed there may be another way of looking at it that neither of you has considered.
  5. Help them save face. Even if your opponent comes round to your view, they are unlikely to change their behaviour if they will face criticism, or jeering about “U-turns.” It is vital to find a way for them to change their behaviour without losing face. You need to help make it safe for them to do so.
  6. Give them the cover they need. Help them find a credible and honourable reason for changing their mind. This is a cumulative process, so do not underestimate the value of small but telling reasons to review their decisions.
  7. Let them in. If they fear retaliation they will never make the final leap. As they approach the tipping point, they may need extra encouragement from you. No triumphalism, or “told you so” behaviour. It takes courage to change your mind and you should salute that.

To read more of Professor Malhotra’s article click here.  He is the Eli Goldston Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School and the author of Negotiating the Impossible.)