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The Newsletter | Edition 071
In our Off-White Papers, we provide practical guidance on how to respond to our rapidly-changing world. This newsletter explores those topics in real-time, with information and action steps on how to make progress now.


From activists to artists, leaders to influencers, comedians to politicians, a lot of professions are driven by persuasion. But with how polarized our world is today, there are limits to it. We might have the numbers, the evidence, and all the hard facts to make the best case, but, oftentimes, that's not enough to fully convince people. Aristotle said, “to educate the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” What are ways in which we can educate the heart? How far should we go to persuade someone? When does persuasion become manipulation?
  1. Combine narrative with fact, from Cara Lohman
  2. Create safe spaces for discussion, from Payal Pereira
  3. Use fiction to inspire empathy, from Osei Kwakye
And this week, our illustrations from Joshua Greene.


From Cara Lohman


A persuasive argument lives or dies by the language we use to deliver it. Words, metaphors, and stories are powerful tools for shaping opinions.


We spend upwards of two-thirds of our days persuading others or being persuaded. By understanding the language of persuasion we can sharpen our own persuasive skills—and potentially spot bad actors.

Take high profile entrepreneurs like Adam Neuman and Elizabeth Holmes, who often use “yoga babble” speak—lofty, poetic language—to trick investors and the public into buying their (failing) company missions. At their best, analogies and metaphors are a powerful way to simplify complex information. At their very worst, metaphors can come across as cliche, or influence perception in an unintended, even harmful way. A prime example: Studies show that President Trump’s metaphorical framing of Covid 19 as a “war” led to rhetorical incoherence and undermined the policy response to Covid 19.

Are there any positive language role models we can turn to? The late essayist-memoirist-journalist extraordinaire Joan Didion was the master of telling it to you straight, without hiding behind analogies and highfalutin language. And yet, in spite of her detached, objective narration style, she was adept at speaking directly to the reader’s hearts, allowing them to reach conclusions on their own.


Become inspired by non-fiction writer Joan Didion’s use of clear, straightforward language to establish credibility, authority, and relevancy.


  • Suggested Joan Didion texts to inspire you to write and speak with seasoned clarity: Insider Baseball (best for: painting a picture of real life and making her argument feel relatable), Why I Write (best for: the effectiveness of writing and speaking clearly), Goodbye To All That (best for: appealing to emotions through the use of imagery)
  • Research shows that we can use metaphors every 25 words. When crafting a speech or writing an argument, try limiting yourself to one powerful metaphor. Use Cliche Finder to find and remove cliches in your writing.


From Payal Pereira


Haruki Murakami once wrote, “Always remember that to argue, and win, is to break down the reality of the person you are arguing against. It is painful to lose your reality, so be kind, even if you are right.” Convincing someone to change their mind is like asking them to abandon their beliefs and the people associated with them. When presented with facts and evidence, most people refuse to believe them because of the risk of social isolation. So, to convince them, you have to gain their trust and make them feel welcome. And the first step in that process is to be kind, listen, and make them feel heard.


In this post-truth world it’s important for us to take a step back and give the people we might disagree with a chance to explain their side of the story. Starting a conversation by telling someone they’re wrong will only make them more defensive and anchored in their beliefs. But they are more likely to change their minds if you allow them to reach a conclusion themselves. Validating their perspectives and showing them that you want to listen builds a level of trust and connection which is key to persuasion. Giving them an opportunity to explain a topic in greater depth could also expose their knowledge gaps, making them more open to discussion, a phenomenon coined by Yale researchers Leonid Rozenblit and Frank Keils as The Illusion of Explanatory Depth.


Create a safe space where people can lower their guards and change their views without the fear of judgment.


  • Share a meal together. According to Alain de Bottom eating together with people we disagree with is an effective way to promote tolerance.
  • Start the conversation with the aim to connect. While you may disagree on many topics, you might be surprised to find that there might be certain things you have in common (e.g., sports, music, travel).
  • Create space for an open discussion. Start by assuming that both parties have valid thoughts and opinions.


From Osei Kwakye


Every year new non-fiction titles emerge to help business leaders level-up by developing new skills, mastering emerging technologies, and learning from the personal insights of respected industry voices. However, many studies have found that the skills associated with emotional intelligence (e.g., self-awareness, empathy, creativity, flexibility) are far more critical to business success than sheer knowledge. An easy fix for aspiring leaders is to read more fiction. While stories may not provide direct information about strategy, marketing, or leadership, they're masterful at helping readers navigate the nuances of human life and relationships.


When even the most successful people in business seem fixated on non-fiction it can be easy to discount stories as recreational or less relevant to leaders. Non-fiction is fact-based, so while it can offer direct answers to questions, it also tends to paint the world in binary terms. Fiction, however, embraces the ambiguity of the human experience and helps readers develop a sense of openness when processing information, a critical skill for decision-making and collaboration.


Create opportunities for your teams to gather around and talk about fiction together.


Much like taste in music or fashion, literary preferences may feel a bit too personal for some people to share with colleagues. And that is perfectly okay. The goal of this exercise is less about sharing what you like to read as an individual and more about recognizing the value of reading about imperfect human. Personal taste in books doesn’t matter as much as the opportunity to unlock insights from what you've read with other people.

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