Something I’ve been thinking about lately: What happens when you can’t change someone’s mind?
Because, despite what the vast majority of persuasion and communication advice implies, even the best arguments for an idea don’t always work. Trying to persuade doesn’t always guarantee you’ll succeed in it.
Why does that happen? And what can you do?
Beliefs drive behavior
The short answer to the first question is this: each of us has beliefs that drive behavior. The problem? When a new idea you present violates someone’s most deeply held beliefs, more often than not, they’ll simply reject that new idea out of hand (a phenomenon known as the Semmelweis reflex).
But there’s hope there: the more aware you are of someone’s underlying beliefs—and your own—the more likely you are to succeed in persuading them towards a new idea.
Two types of beliefs
Some of the most well-studied beliefs are about the self (e.g. “I am smart, capable, and good”). In fact, it was our deeper understanding of those beliefs that led to revolutionary changes in how we treat conditions like depression.
But those beliefs about the self can be hard, if not downright impossible, to surface in a business context. I mean, can you imagine dealing with a salesperson who’s attempting to delve into your deep-seated beliefs about yourself? No thank you.
There’s another set of beliefs, though: beliefs about the world. And we know these “primal world beliefs” (thanks to research I am endlessly fascinated by) not only also drive behavior—they are much easier, and “safer,” to assess in your audience.
For instance, it doesn’t take much to reveal whether or not someone agrees with you that “In most situations, making things way better is absolutely possible” (I’m quoting from the study there)—just state that you believe it, and give your audience an opportunity to respond.
Why is that important? Because these primal beliefs are incredibly stable. In other words:
Primal beliefs don’t change
…at least not quickly.
See for yourself! Here are the opposing pairs of primal beliefs the researchers tested. Read them as choices to end the sentence, “I believe the world is…”
- About me / not about me
- Abundant / barren
- Acceptable / unacceptable
- Beautiful / ugly
- Changing / static
- Cooperative / competitive
- Funny / not funny
- Harmless / dangerous
- Hierarchical / non hierarchical
- Improvable / too hard to improve
- Intentional / unintentional
- Interconnected / atomistic
- Interesting / boring
- Just / unjust
- Meaningful / meaningless
- Needs me / doesn’t need me
- Pleasurable / miserable
- Progressing / declining
- Regenerative / degenerative
- Stable / fragile
- Understandable / too hard to understand
- Worth exploring / not worth exploring
And here’s why the not-changing-ness of those beliefs is important: if your idea (or approach to life!) is rooted at least in part in one of these primal beliefs—and it is!—then it’s likely that anyone who doesn’t share that belief will never be persuaded. If your idea is based on your belief that it’s possible to improve the world, but your audience doesn’t share that belief, then you’re at an impasse, at least in the short term.
That impasse is okay—great, even! Because now you know who you don’t need to talk to.
But you do need to make sure of two things:
- That you’re clear on your own primals.
- You articulate those beliefs in some way when you’re trying to persuade someone else about your idea (though, honestly, you’re communicating them whether you believe them or not).
In fact, let’s test that last one: I’m curious how much you can guess about my primal beliefs, just based on what you’ve gathered about me and my approach from reading or watching my content. Email me with which primal beliefs you think I have! There just might be a surprise in it for whomever gets the most correct! *cough* limited edition hardcover of Find Your Red Thread *cough*
Whether you play along with that game or not, surfacing those silent assumptions—those baseline beliefs—is what the Red Thread helps you do. Your beliefs are present in every part of the Red Thread, but particularly in what you see as the real Problem and in the Truth. The more you can understand and reveal them, the better you’ll understand not only your idea, but also who it’s for.The more aware you are of someone's underlying beliefs—and your own—the more likely you are to succeed in persuading them toward a new idea. Click To Tweet
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