The Art of Persuasion: "Value Mining"
Updated: Apr 19, 2021
By Clayton T. Robertson (Criminal Defense / Civil Litigation Attorney)
This is the second post in a new series on advanced persuasion techniques.
"Value mining" is a technique in which early on during an interaction you obtain the values of the person or group which you are attempting to persuade. You later use these same values to appeal to this person or group.
To simplify this illustration, let's use the example of a date. I know it's a strange example for a legal blog, but it will help clarify the technique because we can all relate to it.
On a first date, when you are both eliciting basic details about your pasts, take the time to ask the other person "why" questions. If someone says they enjoy art, ask them why. They might respond, for example, that they have always been a creative individual who enjoys their autonomy. In this single response, you have obtained two key "values" -- creativity and autonomy.
But don't stop there. You might follow up by asking for an example. What is their favorite work of art? Then ask a question about how this particular piece of art makes them feel. Or you can double back to ask them why autonomy is so important to them. During this process, you continue to elicit additional values. In this way, you come to understand the person at a much deeper level. You may also refer to these same values as you talk about yourself, including why (if true) these values or beliefs are also important to you. (And if you're not a match, why they are not!) In some ways, this technique is really nothing more than what most people already do, which is ask the other person about their interests, except you are attempting to elicit the underlying reasons for those interests.
How does this example relate to the art of persuasion? It is common wisdom that most people are more easily persuaded by appealing to their emotions and values, not by reciting a laundry list of facts or by appealing to them at a "rational" level. This is why storytelling is so important in the courtroom, and elsewhere. To persuade, you must appeal to a person's emotions in the form of a story. You must not only help them make sense of what happened through a story, but you must do so in a way that helps them feel good about the decision they are making. And to feel good about a decision, it must resonate with their core values and belief systems.
No matter how hard you attempt to convince someone to do something, if it's not consistent with their values, and if it doesn't evoke an emotional response that resonates with those values, you will never truly persuade them.