Most arguments consist of two people repeating the evidence they find most convincing.

I have my talking points, you have yours, and never the twain shall meet. Try as we might to persuade each other, your ideas don’t much move me and mine don’t convince you. It’s almost as if we’re two different people! At best, we give up and agree to disagree; at worst, we leave the discussion thinking the other person is dumber than a bag of sand.

A simple question can cut through all this:

“What evidence would you need to see to change your mind about this?”1

This is a great question for at least three reasons.

  1. It acknowledges that what moves me might not move you. You’ve had a different life experience than I, and your values and priorities are different. Instead of me telling you how it is, why don’t I ask you how you see it?

  2. It gently reminds both of us that evidence is the name of the game. Arguments can get emotional, especially if both parties know each other well. If our mutual goal is to find the truth, though, we should set emotion to the side and focus on the evidence. If our mutual goal isn’t to find the truth, the argument’s probably not worth having in the first place.

  3. It admits the possibility that I might be wrong. If I ask you what evidence you’d need to see to change your mind, you might request a perfectly reasonable piece of evidence that I can’t supply, because you’re right and I’ve just realized it.

Consider adding this handy little tool to your interpersonal toolbox. I certainly plan to.

  1. Hat tips to Seth Godin, who hipped me to this question a couple of years ago in a blog post, and Adam Grant, who suggested an effective use of it in the January 2018 edition of his newsletter, Granted↩︎