Changing Minds Begins With Your Own

When we tell ourselves “that person just doesn’t get it”, are we really saying “they don’t see it my way, so they must be misinformed or clueless”?
Often we convince ourselves that if the other person could just see it our way, they would clearly see their error and be grateful for our clarity and wisdom. Hmmmm. Not so much. The art of gentle persuasion is just that. An art, mixed with a dash of practical psychology for good measure.

Deepak Choprah, MD, offers the following pearls of understanding, with a wink and a nod to Benjamin Franklin.

There are times when you want other people to act or think a certain way – namely, the way you think and act. There’s an art to persuasion that begins with a few simple rules. The first comes from Benjamin Franklin: “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” This would seem like a basic truth, but it gets ignored all the time. Think back on the times when someone persuaded you to go along with something that you didn’t really believe in. Years can pass, and still you will be skeptical or resentful about being persuaded against your will.

There is really only one secret to changing other people’s minds, but it’s a big one: Follow practical psychology. If you heed this advice, you will get better at persuading and influencing people over the years. On the other hand, if you ignore or sidestep psychology, you will find yourself with less and less influence as time passes. Here are five ways to put practical psychology to work that you may have overlooked or not known about. Each way comes with a tactic you definitely shouldn’t try, since it’s proven not to work.

1. Be sincere and truthful. Don’t be manipulative.

2. Appeal to what someone else already believes. Don’t impose your own
belief system.

3. Be aware of the other person’s blind spots. Don’t assume they are open-minded.

4. In general, persuade through reason, not emotion. Don’t assume that emotions aren’t in play, however.

5. Make the other person feel right. Don’t make them feel wrong.

These are all effective ways to change someone else’s mind, but the tricky part is that if any one of them goes wrong, the others won’t be of much use. If you’re a woman applying for a job and the interviewer is dead set on hiring a man, nothing else will matter – blind spots, prejudice, and ingrained biases are among the hardest things to overcome. On the other hand, a really skillful use of practical psychology might get you the job, especially if you can make him feel right about his decision.

 Let’s consider each of the five points a bit further.

1. Be sincere and truthful. Don’t be manipulative.

You can’t sell other people on something you don’t actually believe in. That’s why infomercials on late-night television do everything they can to persuade you of their honesty. Testimonials, authority figures, before and after photos, and research data are called upon to make the viewer believe that they aren’t simply watching a commercial, even though they are. We shut out commercials instinctively because we know from experience that they are manipulative and insincere. We also put up our guard when a salesman says, “I really believe in this product.” The upshot is that you shouldn’t try to be a master manipulator. It only works on weak-willed people, and in the end they are fickle allies. Rely on your listener’s natural ability to detect sincerity.

2. Appeal to what someone else already believes. Don’t impose your own belief system.

People identify with their beliefs. If you’ve ever slammed the door when someone tries to offer you a religious pamphlet, or had the door slammed in your face when you went canvassing for a political party, the truth of this point will be obvious. In a different world beliefs would be flexible and open to change, but that world isn’t at hand. So you need to know what someone else really, truly believes. With that knowledge at hand, you can align yourself with their beliefs. Without that knowledge, you are throwing darts at a brick wall. If you try instead to impose your own beliefs, the other person will feel that you are making him wrong, and immediate shutdown follows.

3. Be aware of the other person’s blind spots. Don’t assume they are open-minded.

A blind spot is a fixed opinion that is so strong, the person shuts out any input to the contrary. It’s the supreme example of rigid thinking. If you are self-aware, you know that you have your own blind spots – there are certain things you simply can’t stand or that bring out your most stubborn reactions. There are also positive blind spots, as when a mother feels that her beloved child can do no wrong. No one announces their blind spots, so you have to feel them out. Is the other person balking, contradicting you, trying to change the subject, crossing his arms over his chest? Look for sure signs of resistance, and you will generally be hitting close to another person’s blind spots. It seems discouraging that almost no one has an open mind, but it’s a fact of practical psychology that must be considered. Your task is to avoid sensitive topics and to appeal to the part of your listener that wants to agree with you.

4. In general, persuade through reason, not emotion. Don’t assume that emotions aren’t in play, however.

One of the most confusing aspects of persuasion has to do with being reasonable. Everyone thinks they are, and decision-making is supposed to be rational. Yet psychological research has shown time and again that emotions cannot be separated from the choices we make. Therefore, should you appeal to someone else’s emotions? Unless you have a personal relationship, the answer is generally no. You risk insulting their intelligence or coming off as being manipulative. To be persuasive, you must argue rationally while always monitoring the emotional atmosphere. (It’s worth noting too that competitive personalities regard a show of emotion as a sign of weakness – with them, you must muster all the rational reasons you can.) Some people can be persuaded by a show of emotion, but if you look a bit deeper, they either wanted to be persuaded or agreed with you in the first place – think of the cheers at political rallies for a speech that would be greeted coldly if it was delivered to the other political party.

5. Make the other person feel right. Don’t make them feel wrong.

This point might win the prize for what gets ignored most often. Anytime you bully somebody, lord it over them, use your position of authority, or act superior, you are making that person feel wrong. We all feel wrong when we are judged against. We feel right when we are accepted, understood, appreciated, and approved of. (I’ve met at least one hugely successful executive who built his entire career on making other people feel that they were the most important person in the room.) If you make someone else feel accepted, you have established a genuine bond, at which point they will lower their defenses. If you push someone away instead by making them feel wrong, their defenses will turn twice as strong.

These five points are just elaborations on Ben Franklin’s aphorism, but they are worth learning and testing out if you want to be successful at getting others to change their minds.

Subliminal Seduction

The Tostitos logo embeds two people partying with chips and salsa to make their brand festive and sexy, perhaps aided by other subliminal associations?

Can we be manipulated by marketers to buy?
Market researcher James McDonald Vicary wanted to find out, so in the summer of 1957 in Fort Lee, New Jersey, Vicary conducted an experiment. Over the course of six weeks, Vicary recorded the results of subliminal images flashed on screen during the presentation of the movie Picnic, starring William Holden and Kim Novak. Throughout the movie, the words “eat popcorn” and “drink Coca-Cola” were flashed on the silver screen for a mere 1/3,000th of a second. 45,000 people visited the theater in six weeks and Vicary was astonished at the results. Purchases of popcorn soared by 57.5 percent and Coca-Cola sales jumped 18 percent. The results were reported in the September 16, 1957 edition of Advertising Age, sparking widespread public outrage and paranoia about the study’s implications.

The hysteria was further fueled by the publishing that same year of Vance Packard’s influential book The Hidden Persuaders, which suggested that the public was being monitored and manipulated by marketers and advertisers without their conscious awareness or consent. A year later, an investigation by the CIA led to a ban on the use of subliminal flashes on movie and television screens. The public was now not only aware of subliminal advertising techniques but were reassured that laws were in place to protect them from corporate and hollywood mind control.

There was only one problem: Vicary’s experiment was a hoax. He admitted as much in a 1962 interview with Advertising Age, stating that the original market research study was “a gimmick” and admitted that the amount of data collected was “too small to be meaningful.” But the damage to public opinion had been done and the urban myth lives on, perpetuated by blogs, conspiracy theorists and even Hollywood, with movies like “The Manchurian Candidate” and “Inception”.

The word “subliminal” has latin roots: “sub” meaning “below” and “limen” meaning “threshold of consciousness”. Ironically, even though a bogus market research study in the 1950s had the nation feeling unnecessarily anxious, today’s studies in neuroscience have disturbing implications for consumers. As it turns out, most of the day to day decisions we make happen below our threshold of consciousness. So while we worried that corporations might be controlling our minds in the fifties, we should be wondering if we are ever completely in control. That’s because we believe that our conscious or rational mind is in control because it’s the part of our mind that “talks” to us. It’s the voice inside our head that speaks as we silently read the words of this blog or mull over a decision.

Neuroscience suggests that we remain happily unconscious most of the time.
In 2008, a group of scientists led by a researcher from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, used brain scans to accurately predict participants’ decisions seven seconds before they consciously made and voiced their decisions. The researchers reported in Nature Neuroscience in April, 2008 that “Many processes in the brain occur automatically and without involvement of our consciousness.
This prevents our mind from being overloaded by simple routine tasks. But when it comes to decisions, we tend to assume they are made by our conscious mind. This is questioned by our current findings.”

Marketers, aided by dozens of research findings in neuroscience made in the past ten years, have become keenly aware that we often make mostly unconscious, snap decisions first, then use the “voice” of our conscious mind to validate and rationalize our decisions. The implications are as fascinating as they are unsettling. We’ll explore some of these in the coming weeks…