The day you stopped having rational arguments

The day you stopped having rational arguments

Today is the day you stopped having rational arguments.

Yep. You heard me.

At the end of this article, you’re going to be a slightly different person. You’re no longer going to try and reason with friends, family, and coworkers.

Instead, you’re going to speak to their hearts. You’re going to reach them where it matters.

You might be put-off by my message so far, and I understand why.

You might think I’m being a bit presumptuous. You might also think that emotional argumentation is immoral and somehow “dirty”.

But the fact of the matter is that most of us use emotion to persuade most of the time. It’s only when we get into nerve-wracking, high-stakes persuasion situations that we begin to over-think things… and when we over-think things we get into facts-and-logic mode.

This article is a plea for you to consciously use emotional persuasion in all the situations you face.

Let me first give you a research-backed example of the power of emotion.

I want you to pretend that you’re going through your email. You notice a message from your favorite charity.

You open it up and see the following photo, along with the following message:

“12,467 children die from malaria each month. Make a difference in the world. Stop malaria by donating the nets and medication these kids need. Donate $50 today.”

Are you going to donate?

OK–now I want you to imagine that you’ve received the following message instead:

“Michael just had his 3rd birthday. He celebrated with his loving parents, his two brothers, and his older sister… but he probably won’t make it to his 5th. Why? Because malaria kills 50% of all children like Michael each year. But you can make a difference. $50 will provide Michael with the nets and medication he needs to stay safe.”

How do you feel now? Are you going to donate?

If you’re like most people, the answer is yes.

The second message is much more effective.

It hits us where it hurts. It stimulates our emotions, it tugs at our heartstrings.

The problem outlined in the first email is bigger. You’re told about the plight of over 12,000 children. In the second ad, you’re told about the plight of one child and his family, but it seems like a *much bigger problem*.

It turns out that the approach in the second email is roughly twice as effective as the approach in the first. There’s even a name for the psychological phenomenon at play: The Identifiable Victim Effect.

OK, now let’s talk about a hot-button issue: immigration.

In the current immigration debate, I’ve seen two main arguments put forth by those of us in the pro-immigration camp.

The first argument is a rational, economic one: “Immigrants pay into the system, providing us with billions of tax revenue each year. In addition, they fill critical jobs we need to maintain a thriving economy.”

The second argument is emotional: “We’re a kind, generous nation. It’s inhuman to tear apart families and be cruel to those just like us. How would you like to be ripped from your home and sent to a far away land by people with guns?”

Which argument do you find more compelling?

The second one.

It’s not even close.

The first argument takes a rational angle. It tries to show you that immigrants help increase the size of the economy. It’s a numbers and logic based POV. But there’s a problem: it doesn’t stir our emotions at all.

It’s also too… robotic. It’s utilitarian. It makes the person making the argument seem selfish and uncaring. Its lack of emotion regarding a deeply sad, human topic is off-putting.

The second argument is impactful. We imagine a regular family, going about their business, when a menacing group of armed men breaks down the door and drags them from the safety of their home.

We even imagine ourselves in that position.

It’s no surprise that the most popular articles shared on immigration are filled with heart-wrenching stories of injustice and fear instead of statistics.

“But Jason, both of the examples you just gave (charity & immigration) are inherentlyemotional. Does this tactic apply to dry things (like business decisions)?”


You can take an emotional angle on any topic.

For example, let’s say that you’re trying to convince your boss to give you some money to test out Facebook ads.

Most people would try and calculate the expected return-on-investment for the campaign they’re planning. “See, for each dollar we spend we expect to bring in $1.25…”

That’s a fine argument, and it will work maybe 1/3rd (or 1/2) of the time.

But here’s a better argument:

You: “Do you think we’re innovative?”

Boss: “Yes.”

You: “Because innovative teams like us try out new things. We take risks. We test out new technologies and strategies, even if they don’t always work… because they result in home-runs from time to time. Can you imagine what will happen if this turns out to be twice or three times as effective as what we’re doing now? What will the CEO say? All it requires is a little test money…”

You can bust out some back-of-the-envelope ROI calculations at the end of this to appease the rational mind of your boss, but that’s just icing on the cake. Her decision has already been made.

The bottom line: Always lead with emotion. The emotional argument is what sells people. The rational icing on the cake is what makes them feel justified publicly holding, and repeating, that opinion.

I call this the 1-2 punch.

Hit with emotion, and then finish with a rationalization uppercut.

If you do this, you’ll always have the best shot of winning whatever persuasion-battle you’re in.

Featured Articles

Hooked How To Form Habit Forming Products Is Wrong

Hooked: How to Build Habit Forming Products Is Wrong

Read Article →
Behavioral Science Consultancy: Why you probably shouldn’t hire one

Behavioral Science Consultancy: Why you probably shouldn’t hire one

Read Article →
​Here's Why the Loop is Stupid

Here’s Why the Loop is Stupid

Read Article →
The death of behavioral economics

The Death Of Behavioral Economics

Read Article →