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Marketing Viewpoint by Ruth Winett

Is It Possible To Get People To Change Their Minds?

When smart people hang on to misinformation
despite the evidence...

During a recent current events discussion, a participant stunned the group by quoting facts that supposedly disproved climate change. We all know smart people who hang on to misinformation and make poor decisions despite the evidence. However, when approached tactfully, some individuals will alter their opinions, despite their natural tendency to resist change.

Why People Hang on to Problematic Beliefs and Decisions

People stick with disputed positions for reasons, such as the following:

Loyalty/tradition/habit - I must stick with the views of my political party, my religion, or my relatives. These views are part of my identity.

Stubbornness - Who are you to challenge me?

Different set of facts—My facts regarding climate change or Covid vaccines are more compelling than your facts.

Repetition - Multiple sources provided the same (mis)information. Confirmation bias.

Testimonials and celebrity claims - They are rich/successful. They must be right.

Saving face- If I admit I am wrong, it implies I have poor judgment and am a weak person. Risk--If I challenge my religious beliefs or my political views, I risk losing my support system.

Financial - If I don’t support my unpopular beliefs and decisions, I will lose money.

How To Get People To Change Their Minds

When attempting to change a “dissenter or distractor’s mind,” Laura Huang and Ryan Yu* recommend that you identify “the root of the fundamental disagreement.” Ask, "What’s driving my detractor’s resistance?” What are the major reasons for resisting? Then, they recommend evaluating which of the following three “persuasion strategies” could convert “adversaries into allies”:

"The Cognitive Conversation" - use with “detractors [with] a no-nonsense attitude” [engineers?]. These detractors lack an “ulterior motive,” and they make emotionless “logical…objections.” Use “sound arguments and [make] a good presentation.” Apply logic and develop an objective “clear storyline to force the detractor to reassess their thinking.” For instance, the reasons we decided to change suppliers are “cost and quality.” Avoid emotions and “broad generalizations,” urge Huang and Yu.

"The Champion Conversion" - use with people who “harbor a grievance” with you.…Debating them is useless,” for instance in a promotion decision. Rather than trying to convince the dissenter using “cognitive arguments…,” “build…rapport with them…and [explore] why they might feel personally affronted…. Gradually convert this detractor into …[a] champion or advocate.” However, developing a relationship is not sufficient. You should also apply logic. “Authenticity is key.”

"The Credible Colleague Approach" - use when the person’s “upbringing, personal history, [or] unspoken biases…[may] make it seemingly impossible for them to accept a decision….” They may object to planning a ”clinical trial for a new product.” Don’t argue. Enlist “a credible colleague [, a] champion of your position from another [department]…. This forces the detractor to… evaluate the idea based on its objective merits,” not your relationship. The colleague, however, must not force the detractor into an uncomfortable position.

To change a detractor’s or dissenter’s mind, identify the reason for the person’s disagreement and pick a strategy that is consistent with the person’s beliefs and style. Tell stories that engage the person, and then look for small things that you both can agree on. Find things you can admire about the other person. Use a conciliatory, not confrontational, tone. Finally, if the person won’t budge, seek the help of a sympathetic colleague who may be more successful.



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Copyright ©8/23 Ruth Winett. All rights reserved.

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