Have you ever tried to change someone’s mind? Have you ever found someone trying to change your mind? And how did these experiences go? Like it or not, many of life’s interactions are but replays of these two scenarios — only with different choices and characters.
Sure, influence and persuasion are must-haves in every leader’s toolbox. But have you ever looked beyond your agenda and asked yourself — wait, how do minds change? And how does this shape the world that we live in today?
That’s exactly what journalist and self-proclaimed psychology nerd David McRaney did in his book “How Minds Change: The Surprising Science of Belief, Opinion, and Persuasion”.
Watch our exclusive interview with “How Minds Change” author David McRaney here:
Insight: Groups that do a better job of reaching a consensus are better at achieving communal goals and out-survive groups that don’t.
Data: Increased polarisation leads to inaction. Instead of opening up opportunities to create solutions and address threats, polarisation harbours distrust, anger, and infighting among groups (Gallup).
What’s the step change: To utilise the insights from “How Minds Change” and understand that life is not only about influencing others’ thinking but also being open to changing our own.
How Minds Change Insights
How does a country go from banning same-sex weddings to advocating for LGBTQ+ rights? What does it take to deradicalise a former Westboro Baptist Church member? And how do you get a dedicated conspiracy theorist to leave that life behind?
In today’s Knowledge Nuggets, we dive into “How Minds Change” where author David McRaney takes us on an investigative and inspiring journey with cult members, conspiracy theorists, political activists, picketers, campaigners and other colourful characters. All this to understand the inner workings of our minds and how we can utilise this knowledge to impact our communities in positive ways.
More than just another set of tactics for businesses and organisations to use on their audiences, McRaney’s brain-bending work is about understanding how our minds work and using that to make meaningful connections — something that is nearly impossible in today’s increasingly polarised society.
In a game of True or False, Step Change CEO Ashton Bishop and author David McRaney break down five of the most profound insights from the book:
1. People make emotional decisions
“We only make the decisions we can justify. They won’t necessarily be the best.”
Whether it’s having another slice of chocolate cake or choosing where to send your kids to school — most decisions are made at an emotional level. All justification comes after.
Research shows that tapping into negative emotions provokes a more significant response than tapping into positive emotions. This is why you’ll see ads and campaigns pandering to this negativity bias because it will most likely drive some sort of action.
More than just the frequency and even accuracy of your messaging — it’s also important to understand how emotional triggers play a huge part in creating connections and eventually influencing someone’s way of thinking.
2. You can't change minds through facts alone
“The truth is almost always in the Venn diagram of our differing perspectives.”
While facts and evidence are invaluable in the courtroom, laboratory, and academia — they won’t be of much use at the pub with friends or over dinner with family. The barrage of information might even encourage the other party to defend their beliefs with their own set of facts.
Nobody likes to feel cornered or manipulated. Research tells us that pushing people too hard may drive them to do the very opposite of what you intended. Instead of going face to face with facts, there is more value in going shoulder to shoulder — where both sides establish a common ground, build rapport, and coordinate towards a common goal or shared values.
3. People change their own minds
“You can’t push the string. You have to pull it.”
It’s tempting to take credit for changing someone’s mind. But great leaders know that there’s more to that “a-ha” moment than meets the eye.
Experts warn that people often get lost in building arguments and talking points that we forget how to be good listeners which is ironic because you're more likely to change someone’s mind when you ask questions, listen sincerely, and tell stories.
Emotional impact and rapport building can only get you so far. Meaningful connections are formed when we move out of the binary ‘win-lose’ thinking where one person is right and the others are wrong. This creates the opportunity for everyone to be curious, ask better questions, share openly, feel heard and in turn listen.
4. Beliefs aren't permanently set
“We change every day, all day.”
Have you ever met someone who believed one thing, and lived their whole lives according to that belief only to turn back and change their ways? Have you ever been that person?
While humans form beliefs from a young age, there’s no telling that these will remain absolute for the rest of our lives. As we encounter new information and find ourselves in new experiences, some beliefs will be affirmed and others will be challenged along the way.
Instead of trapping themselves inside a box, great leaders know that when something or someone comes up to shake their beliefs they are not being attacked but are rather given an opportunity to rethink beliefs and make better choices.
5. Overriding the subconscious mind takes work
“It’s possible, but it’s not easy.”
There have been fields of studies and even self-help industries dedicated to overriding the subconscious mind. Using heuristics and biases to your advantage is one thing, but it’s another to rewire your brain and challenge its shortcuts. The consensus has always been that it’s possible, but it will take a lot of work.
In “Thinking, Fast and Slow” Daniel Kahneman states that the human brain uses two thinking systems — System 1 and System 2. In a nutshell, System 1 or the unconscious mind is fast, automatic, and requires very little effort to engage. Meanwhile, System 2, or the conscious mind is rational, requires more effort and is more difficult to engage.
Instead of thinking of these as two opposing systems, the key is to find a way for one to support the other. While this takes awareness and practice, it’s a journey worth taking.
Much has been said and done in the realm of influence and persuasion. Many of us benefit from using various tactics to convince people that they need our services, that our products are life-changing, and that we are simply better than our competitors. But very few ask when was the last time we changed our minds, and even fewer are those who examine the reason behind it.
At the end of the day, groups who do a better job of reaching consensus out-survive groups that don’t. Yet, society as we know it is obsessed with division and creating arguments than building meaningful connections and crafting solutions. What does this say about the future that awaits us?
In an increasingly polarised society and rapidly changing world, the old ways of thinking are no longer working.
In the words of David McRaney, “The ability to change our minds, update our assumptions, and entertain other points of view is one of our greatest strengths.” In accepting this truth, we break down the systems that perpetuate the noise and nonsense and drive inaction. This is how we can move towards interactions that inspire us to create lasting solutions and make smarter decisions.