I am right, you are wrong

How to negotiate the world of entrenched views is increasingly the sort of question being asked by students as they progress through university. By Derrick Moot.

In Community5 Minutes

NOT A GREAT CONVERSATION starter is it? Most of us are guilty of taking an entrenched position on issues we are passionate about so our open mind disappears in a haze of red mist.

How to negotiate the world of entrenched views is increasingly the sort of question being asked by students as they progress through university.

What do you do when you meet up for coffee with a former school mate who tells you farmers are ruining the country and the planet? How do you challenge their thinking without screaming at them and ending a friendship?

Neither of you will actually be listening and a bitter taste remains in your mouth long after you’ve finished the coffee. But there is a more successful way.

Psychologists call it “self-persuasion” and it is the most powerful tool available to change minds. This is how social media algorithms are designed to keep people online. Their main aim is to deliver eye-balls to advertisers by offering information that reinforces thinking – strengthening confirmation bias. But social media has no rules about the validity of information – there are no journalistic standards or scientific peer review processes – just read what you want to and “vote for me, buy my product or think the way I want you to”.

To combat this we need to challenge the quality of the information – not the person.

Psychologically several steps are required to influence people and change their mind:

  1. Establish a rapport – talk to them – find things in common – we are both humans!
  2. Listen to their claim – hear them out, even though you disagree
  3. Repeat the claim back to them so they see you have listened
  4. Clarify definitions – make sure you are actually disagreeing about something, not just terminology
  5. Ask them for numerical confidence – are you 100% sure of that? 50% sure, 10% sure? This is the key step…
  6. Challenge the number – how can you be 100% sure? – why are you only 50% sure?
  7. What methods did you use to establish that number? – this is when you start the process of creating self-doubt – what is your source? Social media, a news report, Uncle Jack, etc?
  8. Oh I’ve heard something different from… a credible scientific course – and then
  9. Summarise and leave, don’t labour the point – sow self doubt in their methods, not their argument – and let it lie.


Of course this is easier said than done and requires a great deal of self-control but is the only way to engage. Here’s an example I use with the students – we’ll skip the first step assuming you know the person and have a rapport:

  1. The claim – regenerative farming is what New Zealand should be doing to reduce our impact on climate change.
  2. So you believe regenerative farming has a lower carbon footprint than conventional agriculture?
  3. When you say regenerative farming what do you mean? And this one is really important because it may be that much of what they consider regenerative farming is already happening on most NZ farms.
  4. How sure are you regenerative farming will reduce the global carbon footprint?
  5. 100% sure – okay, so that’s pretty confident.
  6. How did you come to that conclusion?
  7. Oh, I’ve read in this journal that regenerative agriculture actually increases emissions per unit of product and is less productive so we need to clear more forests if we use less-intensive methods?
  8. Okay – it will be interesting to see whether the studies on regenerative agriculture currently happening in NZ actually show it reduces our carbon footprint – and leave.

Having the background to be able to do this is part of why students come to university.

“Science to challenge management” is our teaching mantra.”

  • Derrick Moot is a professor of plant science at Lincoln University.