Stop Trying to Change People's Minds

Trying to make your team come around to your way of thinking is often a waste of time. Here's what you can do instead.

Most people hate to be told what to do. We're not generally keen on being told we're wrong, either.

Both tendencies, taken together, can add up to usually reasonable folks digging in their heels to hold on to positions that are pretty clearly wrong-headed, just to avoid giving in to the hectoring of others—you've undoubtedly experienced the phenomenon in your own life.

Still, as a business owner, you regularly need to convince skeptical colleagues of your ideas or approach and bring around clients or vendors to your way of seeing things. How can you get people to alter their thinking without putting them on the defensive? Get them to persuade themselves, suggests a fascinating recent post on PsyBlog.

The post cites research that asked people both to sit and passively listen to a persuasive speech arguing for a particular point of view and to give a speech themselves defending a position. The scientists compared how persuaded those that sat and listened were to those who were asked to actively argue for a position they initially didn't believe in.

PsyBlog summarizes the results: "What emerged was that, on average, people were more convinced by the talk when they gave it themselves than when they merely heard it passively. This suggests that we really are persuaded more strongly when we make the argument ourselves, even if it isn't in line with our own viewpoint." Research into smokers confirms these findings, showing that smokers are more persuaded to quit when asked to deliver an anti-smoking message than when they are subjected to a similar message delivered by others.

So how can entrepreneurs put this insight to use? PsyBlog offers an explanation of the phenomenon, as well as a suggestion:

The explanation seems to be that we are very good at convincing ourselves because we know just what sorts of arguments will sway us. So if you want someone to persuade themselves, you can try asking them to put aside their own attitude for a moment and try getting them to generate their own arguments for the point you want to make.

Whatever the cover story, as long as the person is encouraged to generate their own arguments, it has a chance of changing their mind.

Could exercises that ask your team to generate arguments for the course of action you want to take be a better use of your time than simply lecturing them on your point of view?

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