When the brothers saw Yosef approaching them in Dotan, they plotted to kill him. The Torah states, “And Reuven heard and he saved him from their hands. And he said, ‘Let us not hit a mortal blow.’ And Reuven said to them, ‘Do not shed blood.’” What can we learn from Reuven that will develop our skills of convincing others of our point of view?
Rabbeinu Bachaya comments that Reuven wanted to save his brother, Yosef. If he were to say, “Let us not hit him,” he would have shown his brothers that his motivation was compassion for Yosef and they would not have listened to him. Therefore, Reuven added the word “Nefesh,” a mortal blow. Reuven was saying, “I do not want you to commit murder, regardless of who the person is.” Similarly, in verse 22 he said to them, “Do not shed blood.” He did not say “his blood.” This implied, “I, too, hate him and it is not his blood that I am concerned about. Rather, I am concerned that you should not become murderers.”
From this observation of Rabbeinu Bachaya, we see a very important principle when it comes to influencing someone. The focus of your arguments should be on points that the listener will accept even though your own focus might center on a different aspect of the situation. Reuven’s goal was to prevent bloodshed. He wanted to save Yosef. If he would have told them to have mercy on Yosef, they would have disregarded his pleas. He wisely showed them that their behavior was not in their own best interests since they would lower themselves by their actions. When you want to prevent someone from saying or doing things that will hurt someone else, show the person how he is hurting himself by his words or actions.