What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Different parts of our brains are attuned to different situations. Psychologist Drew Westen describes an interesting experiment.* His researchers took MRIs of the brains of people supporting different political candidates as they watched video clips of their candidate contradicting him or herself. When they recognized a contradiction to their own worldview, the “reason and logic” parts of the brain gave way to the parts reserved for “fight-or-flight” responses. Once we've defined a situation as an argument or a fight, with winners and losers, we stop taking in new information. We stop being concerned about who's right and who's wrong and focus on winning. Of course, that very crafty part of our brain is only open to the kind of influence that will help us do that. The minute your target of influence defines you as an adversary, his or her brain won't allow your ideas to be heard.
Because the “fight-or-flight” setting in the brain isn't open to influence, we may need to take some steps to help the other person's brain settle into a place where more rational functions can operate. The FBI's hostage negotiation unit devised a “stairway model” to get a frightened and hostile person to listen to them and take ...