My husband, Tom, recently re-shared a classic post on “The Hazards of Overconfidence” by the economist Daniel Kahneman. Fair warning, I loooooove me some Kahneman and consider his book Thinking Fast and Slow to be required reading for anyone who has, shares, or regularly makes the case for ideas. So, you know, everyone.
As you may guess from the book’s title, Kahneman (along with Amos Tversky, with whom he developed much of his Nobel Prize-winning work) describes two modes of human thinking: “fast” and “slow.” “Fast” thinking is immediate, emotional, and often pre-conscious. To use Kahneman’s example, think of how much information you can process when you see an image of an angry face, even if for just a moment. You can usually identify the apparent gender of the person, infer their mental state, anticipate what might happen next, and may even start inventing stories for what’s going on… all in a split second.
Now, contrast that with the mental work it takes to process a math equation, like 753 x 213. You can immediately recognize that it’s a problem to solve – that’s “fast.” But to solve it? That takes “slow” thinking. You can almost feel your brain slow down as it starts to try to do the work of finding the answer. “Slow” thinking takes over when fast thinking fails (“I don’t immediately know the answer to that question, so now I have to think about it”), or after fast thinking happens (the old “buy from emotion, justify with reason” comes to mind).
I much prefer this way of understanding our (and therefore our customers’ and audiences’) brains to the outdated “left brain / right brain” construct. And, because it avoids judgment-laden terms, I think it’s also more useful than contrasting the “old”/monkey/reptile/caveperson/amygdala-controlled brain with the “new”/developed/pre-frontal cortex brain (thought that contrast is, in fact, more accurate than left brain / right brain).
Here’s why any of this matters: these fast/slow responses engage whenever we’re presented with new information. Which means, of course, it’s what happens in your customer or audience’s mind when you present new information to them.
People are deciding quickly, and then (if they decide it’s worth it to them) again more slowly, whether or not they accept what you say, and whether or not they will act on it. Your message has to get “green lights” from BOTH the fast and slow processes
That’s what I’m been working hard to figure out this year. How does a message survive both the fast and slow processes your audience will put it through? What is it, exactly, that makes people say “yes” to change? What creates the “red lights” that make them say “no”?
While I have a whole new keynote on it (“Getting the Green Light”), the simplest answer is this: only “right” gets through. People won’t consistently do what makes them feel “wrong.” Which means, if you want people to green light your idea or message, you have to make “yes” equal “right.”
And that’s where another tricky thing comes in.
As I was thinking about it, I realized: a lot of times we tell ourselves (and your customers tell themselves), “I’m doing this because it’s right.” But, going back to Kahneman, that’s the “slow” response. It’s the “yes” that happens after someone has already rationalized their decision.
But what’s more accurate, really, is the “fast” version. In that version, the story we’re telling ourselves is, “This is right… because I’m doing it.” After all, we’re all smart, capable, and good, therefore we wouldn’t do anything that wasn’t “right,” right?! Ah. There’s the proverbial “rub.”
When we’re asking people to change, we’re asking them to do something different than what they’re doing now. But if what they’re doing now is “right” to them? That something “different” either makes you “wrong”… or them. And remember… they’re not wrong. They can’t be, or they wouldn’t be doing what they’re doing. (Mind-bending, I know.)
But this, to me, is why the vast majority of change messages (and thus, ideas) fail. We make people wrong. And the worst part? We do it because we’re falling prey to the same trap of thinking. We approach the proposal, post, presentation, or pitch from the point of view (blind though we may to it), that it’s right… because it’s the one we’re recommending. Worse still, we approach the people we’re talking to from the point of view that they’re wrong because they’re not already doing what we think is right. GAH.
As with all things, though, knowledge is power. The first step of making “yes” equal “right” is to try to disconfirm your definition of “right.” Make sure you’re not falling prey to the “This is right…because I’m doing it” trap. Look for examples that go against your recommendations. Look for times where the “wrong” approach actually works… and understand why it does. Look for why your audience is attracted to and believes in what they’re doing – especially when you don’t agree with it. Your audience WILL be looking for those holes (they can’t be wrong, remember?), so make sure you know how to address and answer objections in ways they would agree with.
The second step is to make “yes” equal “right…for them.” In his incredible book, Never Split the Difference, former hostage negotiator Chris Voss talks about the critical difference of “yes” and “right” in your audience’s mind (hat tip to Michael Port for originally introducing me to this concept). As Voss explains, people often will give you a “yes” just to get you to stop talking to them. Worse still, they’ll often say, “you’re right” so it sounds like they’ve agreed… but in reality, they’re still just trying to get you to stop talking to them.
“That’s right,” in contrast, gets people to, as Voss says, “own the conclusion.” Pursuing a response of “that’s right” over “you’re right” or even just “yes” requires you to understand what your audience wants (their Goals) and the way they see the world right now (the perspective that’s creating a Problem they don’t yet see). It also requires you to acknowledge their own view of their “rightness.”
But in my experience, your customer or audience can acknowledge “that’s right” and still not make a change. “Owning the conclusion” doesn’t necessarily equal owning the Change. It’s a critical step (so please do that, if nothing else!), but if you really want people to shift their thinking or behavior, they have to own the Change, too. They not only need to say “that’s right,” they need to say, “that’s right for me.”
To do that, every part of the argument for your idea needs to use their reasoning – both “fast” and “slow.” THEIR goals. THEIR perspectives. THEIR beliefs. And critically, THEIR objections. Yes, you get to introduce your own view, too, but it needs to be done from within their current point of view. You need to craft their case for your idea. That way, you’re both right.
Yes, of course, that’s what the Red Thread® Method is designed to do (this is the Red Thread newsletter, after all…), but whether you use it or not, the approach is still the same.
- Start with what your customers or audience already want… and make it right that they want it (the GOAL)
- Describe what your customers or audience are already doing to get what they want… and make it right that they’ve been doing so up ’til now (the PROBLEM, part 1)
- Introduce another way to look at that same approach using information they can see, understand, and would agree with (the PROBLEM, part 2)
- Reinforce that new perspective using something they already, or would readily, believe (the TRUTH)
- Describe the conclusion you draw from that information, and give them the option to ignore it (the CHANGE)
- Make that conclusion concrete by describing what’s already available to them to put it into action (the ACTION)
Of course there are times when someone will say, “Yep, you’re right, I’m wrong, I’m going to do something different.” You may have been the one saying it, or the one hearing it. And much like leveraging pain does, indeed, work to drive action (in the short term – fast! ), making people wrong can work in the short term, too, especially if they’re already starting to suspect they’re wrong.
But if you want to get those “green lights” to go on and stay on, if you want them to survive the “slow,” long term, experiment with making them right.What’s “right,” anyway? Click To Tweet
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