If you want a challenge, try to get someone to change their mind about something they believe. Here is how to do it effectively.
Do your homework. Prioritize logic and information. Make sure that you gather all the information you can find to refute their belief. Assess how to best present that information in a logical and sequential fashion to ensure that it cannot be misunderstood. Ask questions to be sure that they are following along and understand and agree with every point you are making. Make eye contact often and use body language to emphasize every major and important point. This will bring them to the logical conclusion that their initial belief was wrong and they will thank you for correcting them.
The above is how most of us do it and it is proven wrong by science. Using the above is like trying to herd cats. It doesn’t work and it annoys the cats.
I was just recently involved in a particularly difficult discussion regarding decision-making with neighbors. I laid out the most beautiful sequence of scientific evidence regarding the amygdala, the ladder of inference and other things about which I expound in my writings. It was among my most beautiful displays of comprehensive pomposity. The effect: the cats were annoyed.
So I consoled myself by researching the Internet where all answers can be found. In a video by Taili Sharot, professor of cognitive neuroscience, and author of “The Influential Mind: What the Brain Reveals About Our Power to Change Others,” she points out how the use of functional MRI demonstrates how the brain actually works. It seems that getting others to change their minds is a difficult process. We must overcome some obstacles.
One giant obstacle is that we will be attempting to get someone to change a part of their belief system. That system is entrenched and fortified and should not be directly assaulted as in the above example. The brain’s confirmation bias looks for things that confirm our beliefs and actions. We are happy to see commercials that demonstrate that we are drinking the right beer. When presented with information that contradicts our beliefs, the brain will discount the information and look for flaws in it. We never liked that actor who drinks that other beer anyway.
This way of doing business is actually correct in the long run. It provides a short cut to making decisions that is mostly based on experiences. Thus we do not have to reinterpret every piece of information that presents itself. However, there are those instances when the new information should cause us to re-evaluate our position.
So, how do we get someone to re-evaluate and give credibility to our presentation? First, we need to understand the above discussion, which includes not attacking their belief system directly. Directly presenting contradictory information may cause them to generate a counter that will actually strengthen their belief. This is called the “boomerang effect.” Interestingly, the science shows that the smarter you are the more likely you are to “boomerang.” Don’t try to prove them wrong. Try to find some common ground.
Fight the instinct to demonstrate your credibility by bombarding them with logic and data. The good doctor explains an example where parents who refused to vaccinate their children because they believed it causes autism. Using the scientific evidence that it does not cause autism would not alter their stance. Instead, pointing out that vaccines would protect their children from deadly diseases proved more effective. This argument was not contradictory to their beliefs and was compatible with the belief that we need to protect our children. This is the common ground: a presentation framed in way compatible with a common belief.
There are many other obstacles to getting others to change their mind: Overcoming their present emotional state, proper us of incentives, providing the right control, enhancing curiosity, reducing threats and overcoming social concerns. Luckily for me, I am running out of space so you will have to see the video and read the book.
Bottom line is that if you want to influence people to change their mind (belief system) we must modify our approach from direct attack to finding a common belief from which to work. After all, we all want to improve our influence and communication with others and we are smart, right?
For me, I plan on drinking even more wine with my neighbors since that is the common ground.
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