We have all been there, desperately trying to convince the dummy next to us that they have things figured out incorrectly. We lay out our facts and tell them why their rationale does not add up. We do or see this everyday, whether it is on the internet, at the coffee shop, at the family dinner table or on the news. It is really frustrating and both sides leave thinking the other is an idiot for not being able to see things the way they really are.  There are two big reasons that verbal persuasion often fails to change hearts and minds, no matter how overwhelming the material presented may be.  They are also two scientifically based phenomena that every speaker, politician, or organization should consider before they strategize their message delivery.

  1. Our doggedly rational brains prioritize self-image-preservation over self-preservation.
    • Here’s how it goes down:
      • We want to make sense of ourselves, create a coherent image
      • Problems arise with contradictions in different aspects of ourselves.
      • Problems also arise with contradictions between beliefs and actions.
      • When those happen, we adjust our beliefs to bring them in line with our actions.
      • Then, to prevent this from reoccurring, we make choices to reinforce our self-image.
      • This information is from Sheena Iyengar’s The Art of Choosing.
    • Example
      • Ward sees himself as an ambassador for agriculture.
      • Typically those advocating for agriculture avoid criticizing agricultural practices, crops, or culture.
      • Ward also notices that big agriculture is in the habit of harming the soil by their practices of using harmful pesticides and not rotating fields.
      • Farmers Ward likes and trusts use these practices.
      • Ward then adjusts his beliefs to believe that these are necessary practices that ethical farmers must use in order to feed all the hungry people.
      • Ward uses this argument and rationale when he comes into other ethical farming questions in the future.
    • Why it gets in the way of discourse:
      • Once we choose what our identity is and what our reality is, it is hard to make us move. Cognitive dissonance is too uncomfortable for our brains.
      • Therefore, when faced with new information, we may disregard it in able to stay in our formed identities. They take precedence over reason, values, and ethics.
  2. By definition, people must participate in their reality.
    • How it goes down
      • In quantum physics, the science used to describe all forces in the universe, there is no reality if no one participates in it.
      • “Reality is co-created by our processes of observation, from decisions we the observers make about what we choose to notice. It does not exist independent of those activities.”
      • Where we focus our energy, attention and emotion effects and builds reality.
      • “Therefore, we cannot talk people into our version of reality because nothing is real for them if they haven’t created it.”
      • Quotes are from Margaret Wheatley.
    • Example
      • June thoroughly investigated her company’s operations and devised a way to improve communications and decrease errors through a new operating plan.
      • She shared the plan with her colleagues and they were uncertain of its effectiveness.
      • Later, her colleagues reviewed her background information and research, asked her questions, and suggested minor adjustments.
      • In the end, everyone believed in June’s operating plan.
    • Why it gets in the way of discourse
      • No matter how much knowledge or experience a person has, that person’s reality cannot be accepted by others until they too have participated in it.
      • There is no quick way for everyone to learn everyone else’s reality.

Though every situation is different, there are better ways than pure debate or fact throwing of changing opinion and shifting someone’s reality.  In the next two weeks we will explore some of these tactics. In the meantime, keep in mind that we have to be more considerate of the other person when we discuss our views and perspective, and we have to give them more identity and experience than we take away from them.