How can attitudes be changed?

By Fatmanur Erdogan, Hürriyet Daily News

I am often surprised by how many courses companies make their employees take, so they can learn their jobs better.  However, most talented people don’t lack technical skills, they lack the ability to persuade others to adopt new business practices.  Changing others’ minds is difficult, and often ends in disappointment.  How do you overcome that resistance?

An experiment by Goethals and Reckman shows that persuasion sometimes happens when people least expect it.  Often, even the people whose minds changed are unaware of the change.  Since you don’t know when a person might be open to your idea, you need to patiently continue pitching over a period of time.  If they are not convinced today, tomorrow they might be.

Everything starts and ends with people.  We work with people.  We need their acceptance.  We need some of them to lead us, and we need most of them to follow.  So beyond patience and persistence, what other tools can we use to persuade and influence others?

Let’s look at the six elements described by Dr. Robert Cialdini in his book “Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion”.

According to Cialdini, the more we are liked, the more people listen to us.  But in my opinion, it’s about more than being liked.  It’s also about being able to like others more than they like us.  When we like others, they like us back.  They feel safe with us, and they are more accepting of what we offer.

We can’t always like everyone, though.  Fortunately, Cialdini lays out five other principles we can tap into when we need to persuade others.  One of those is authority, which  comes from having established knowledge, expertise, and truthfulness.  People are inclined to follow the guidance of experts they deem trustworthy.

So, if people see you as a trustworthy expert, you can start to build credibility.  But knowledge and expert status alone are not enough.  To become credible, you need Cialdini’s third element, commitment and consistency.

People trust those who act consistently.  They are more likely to allow themselves to be won over by those who prove their commitment with repeated, active, public works.  When we try to influence through consistency, though, it is advisable to ask our audience to take small steps.  We might be used to and comfortable with a particular course of action, but to others who are just starting, it may feel new and risky.

Moreover, when you want to motivate people to follow your ideas, remember that the prospect of losing something affects them more than the possibility of gaining that same thing.  In other words, avoiding danger is more motivating than chasing reward.  So, persuasion works best when we concede a weakness immediately before explaining a strength.  Talk about the losses to be incurred, before the gains to be attained.

Also, remember that people seek social validation.  They decide what they should do by looking at what other people like them chose to do.  So, after you paint a picture of the risks and rewards, tip the scales in your favor by telling your audience what other people in the same situation did in the past.

And finally, Cialdini tells us about reciprocation.  When someone does good to us, we like to do good to them, too.  This desire to return a favor is evident across all cultures.  It is not a chore, it is an obligation we seem to enjoy.  Leverage this by preemptively doing favors for others.  When the time comes for you to ask for their support, they will be eager to give it.

Come to think of it, these principles are actually quite straightforward.  If human interaction is so simple, and if our mothers were already teaching us these same rules at an early age, why do we find it so difficult to bring others around to our views?

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