I had seen the memes for months. But, it wasn’t until recently that I became aware that the guy seen sitting behind a table bearing a sign with the words “change my mind” had a pretty interesting and provocative series of webisodes.
This guy, Steven Crowder, appears in public places with a sign stating a usually-conservative belief and inviting passersby to change his mind. These topics range from abortion rights to gun control ideas to the number of genders among humans.
I know that, in today’s world, there is much division over political ideology. So, this post is not to side with or against Crowder’s views.
It’s to explore how his discussions in these webisodes can teach us something about negotiation.
You see, despite talking to some people with high intellect, good arguments and vested interests in the topics, you don’t really see Crowder getting his mind changed. Sometimes you see him changing other people’s minds. Sometimes you see people angrily storming away from their conversations with Crowder.
But, you don’t see them persuading Crowder, despite his open invitation to do so.
It’s not that he is talking with people with inferior intelligence. Many of his webisodes are filmed on college campuses and the volunteers are often super-smart and articulate.
It’s not that he is talking with people who are unfamiliar with the topic. For example, he has discussed “rape culture” with actual rape victims and number of genders with actual transgender individuals.
Still, you see Crowder unconvinced, even-tempered and seemingly victorious pretty much every single time.
So, what is his secret?
I believe that it is his preparation.
Crowder knows he is really putting himself in a vulnerable position by asking anyone – anyone! – to try to change his mind without knowing who he will be speaking with. So, he does what a good negotiator does: he prepares voraciously!
He collects statistics. He knows about current events involving the topic. He plans his questions carefully to get his counterpart to reveal what he wants them to reveal, often statements he can use to defuse arguments he expects to hear from them later. He anticipates what they are going to say and has the perfect response ready. He knows which of his arguments are the most powerful and plans when to use them. He anticipates angry responses and he stays calm.
This preparation proves to be more powerful than any quality that his counterparts can bring to the table. Preparation beats intelligence. Preparation beats having a vested interest. Preparation beats less prepared logic. Preparation beats emotion. Preparation beats everything.
And, so I think it is in negotiation, as well: preparation is the most valuable component of a negotiation strategy. Change my mind.