It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that the success of your marketing and selling efforts — not to mention much of your speaking and writing efforts — depends on how good you are at changing people’s minds.
Except that people don’t like to change their minds.
In fact, when challenged, people will often double down on their beliefs. They have to, really. Doing otherwise would force them to consider whether or not they’re as smart, capable, and good as they think they are. Since that’s a consideration basically all humans like to avoid, well, yeah. It makes your job tough.
So what’s a professional mind-changer like you to do? Well, first, remember that it’s always about them, not (just) you. You’re trying to create the change in them, sure, and that means you have a lot of work to do. But really, they have the much, much harder task.
Why? Because while you need to figure out the message that will move them (and yes, that’s difficult in and of itself), they’re the ones that have to move. And to create change? You pretty much HAVE to change what they believe….
Or do you?
A recent #swipefile gives us a clue to the answer. It’s the one about how climate change conversations are difficult for both skeptics and environmentalists(see: doubling down on beliefs, above). In it, you’ll read that, when climate change skeptics were presented with other science they believed (like germs and gravity), they moderated their position. Similarly, in a different study, when environmentalists were taught to find multiple pathways in discussions (e.g., many different ways to discuss climate change), those discussions were more successful.
Two other, and much older, #swipefiles come into play here. The first is a study about how “paradoxical thinking” can mitigate the doubling down of beliefs. Basically, the approach they tested was giving information to people that is consistent with what they currently believe, but taken to an illogical extreme. The results? Participants were more “conciliatory” in both thinking and behavior even a year later.
This helps explain why the climate change skeptics softened their position when presented with other forms of science they believe in: we need to give people information that validates their current thinking before we can change that thinking.
Why that works is part of the second old #swipefile entry I mentioned. This is another favorite of mine, on “radical empathy.” In it, the author suggests an exercise where you “Try to state the position from someone from the opposite side of the political divide so accurately and comprehensively that they agree you’ve captured their view.” Once you’ve validated the feelings that produced a person’s thinking, they feel heard and understood. Human nature is such that, more often than not, they will reciprocate and are often open to new information (especially if it’s consistent with their thinking… see above!).
At the core of all of this is something I said in my TEDxWilmingtonWomen talk from a couple of years ago: “When two truths fight, only one lives.” People cannot hold two truths in their minds at the same time and give both equal value. That’s why the climate change skeptics softened their position. It’s why people on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict softened theirs.
And there is one specific truth that, when brought into play, wins every time. You guessed it: the dominant truth, always, is people’s belief that they are smart, capable, and good. That’s what drives people’s dominant desire: to be seen by others as smart, capable, and good.
That’s why the environmentalists were more successful when they persisted in finding different pathways through difficult conversations. They had to find ways to talk about climate change that validated others’ feelings, and the variety of reasons people felt as they did.
So, you see, to change someone’s mind you don’t have to change what they believe. That way often lies tears, for all the reasons we just talked about.
No instead, one of the most effective ways to change’s someone’s mind is to present new information in a way that validates what they believe, not just about the world, but critically, about what they want to believe about themselves.
The Red Thread® Method, is, at its heart, an exercise in this kind of radical empathy:
- Validate what your audience wants (their Goal).
- Validate their current approach (the Problem of Perspective, part 1).
- Introduce a new approach in a way that’s consistent with their previous thinking (the Problem of Perspective, part 2).
- Validate that new approach with their beliefs about the world or themselves (the Truth).
- Let them come to their own conclusion… yours (the Change).
Only then will they be ready to hear what you want them do as a result (the Actions).
Don’t force people to double down. Lift them up on the strength of their own beliefs. Help them change into the person they want to be.
You may end up changing something far greater than a mind.Present new information in a way that validates what they believe, not just about the world, but what they want to believe about themselves. Click To Tweet
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