Opening The Door
The human brain is just plain weird.
We like to think that we are pragmatic creatures of logic and reason. But the truth is, an awful lot of what we do makes about as much sense as walking around in stilettos.
I mean… who thought that one up? Walking around balanced on top of what is, essentially, a long nail?
Don’t get me wrong – I love the idea! I love stilettos.
And that’s pretty freakin’ weird too. Right?
Why does the human brain think silletos are sexy?
Who f**ing knows!!
Like I said… weird.
So, it probably shouldn’t be so surprising that a lot of what drives human behavior is also pretty weird. It shouldn’t be surprising, but it is (because for some reason we hang onto this delusion that we are rational beings).
You might think that if you wanted to change someone’s mind about something, the most important thing you could do is share some really strong, convincing data with them.
You might think that… but if you did, you would be wrong.
I’m not saying that good data doesn’t have a role to play when it comes to changing minds. Sure. It should definitely, probably, maybe, be one of the cards in your hand. (Just, whatever you do… don’t play it first.)
The thing is… the psychology behind changing minds is about as intuitive as backgammon – which is to say… not f**king intuitive at ALL. (I’m not saying backgammon is not a great game – it’s an awesome game! But you don’t crack that sucker open and immediately go, “Oh, yeah… ok, yep, I can see what you do here…”
The business of changing what someone believes or thinks is a complicated mess, tangled up in their emotions, and their identity, and their sense of belonging. (That’s a whole 10 article series by itself.)
Understanding the psychology behind someone’s beliefs is like trying to untangle a ball of yarn your cat has been playing with for a month. Sooner or later you’re going to realize that this is an exercise in futility.
But that’s ok. You don’t have to fully understand the roots behind someone’s beliefs. You just have to take a critical first step.
Most of the time, folks skip this first (and most important) step when they want to change minds.
(Don’t worry – you didn’t miss the step – I didn’t reveal it yet… it’s coming…)
Their focus is on all of their awesome arguments – their undeniable, totally verifiable PROOF that they are 100% correct. They’ve got their notecards all lined up. And they are ready to change some minds – hot diggity-dog!!
They clear their throat and launch into what might just be the best speech anyone has ever made in the history of the damn world. I’m not kidding. The best. You probably wish you could have heard it. I know I do!
This badass is gonna change some minds over here… right? I mean, we’re talking about the best speech in the history of the world. I would bloody well hope so!
Except… they are talking to a closed door.
And the thing about closed doors is… they don’t have ears.
They can’t f**king hear you.
And other people will think that you are crazy.
(Which you might be… if you are talking to closed doors.)
Don’t talk to closed doors.
If you want to change someone’s mind, the first step is to open the damn door – even just a crack.
In other words (I’ll stop being metaphorical here for a moment), you need to convince someone to listen with at least a sliver of an open mind.
That was it… the first step. You’re gonna want to write that down, probably. I didn’t tell you HOW to do it (that’s coming). But that is what you need to do – open the door.
If you’re not convinced, you are more than welcome to join the hordes of people out there shouting themselves hoarse at closed doors. It’s kind of funny to watch, actually (for the much smaller number of us over on this side), as they scratch their heads wondering why their point doesn’t seem to be getting across, and then the lightbulb moment where they realize… they’ve got to double down… shout LOUDER! Oh, boy… they’re going for the bullhorn!
The truth is that people make this mistake ALL THE TIME – shout their bloody heads off and launch their facts at closed doors, and then wonder why they haven’t been heard. They don’t seem to notice when their totally verifiable facts bounce off, roll away, and disappear down a gutter somewhere. So… good job fact gathering, but you get an ‘F’ in the changing minds department.
Do you know what happens when you drill down with someone whose mind is closed to what you have to say?
They cover their ears, dig their heels in, and latch onto their current beliefs with all the strength of an angry 5,000 pound octopus.
So… if that was the objective… score Team You!
When You Want To Change Minds, Logic Is Not Your Friend
Like I said, the human brain is just plain weird. When you want to change minds, logic is NOT your friend. In fact, you need to lock logic in the trunk of your car for a few hours – you know, so it can’t see what you’re going to have to do next.
You have to get the other person to lower their guard, drop their defensive stance, lower their shield, lift the visor on their helmet… you get the idea.
And to do that, you are going to have to do something that sounds… well… odd (which might be why so few people do it).
(This is the HOW part.)
You know those beliefs of theirs – the ones you want to change? Well, you are going to need to help them feel ok about those dumb-ass, sh*tty, ignorant beliefs. You need to step out of your own shoes and into theirs, and then present them with a legitimate excuse for why a reasonable person would hold their current views.
“Wow! A pet alligator? Who wouldn’t want a pet alligator, right? You wouldn’t even have to invest in home security… there must be SO many advantages. I mean, I bet that mouth is actually kind of like a giant mousetrap – how handy is that? And you don’t even have to get rid of the mouse!!! Free alligator food. Damn. That’s pretty clever!”
Let them feel that they aren’t idiots for not knowing something, and that they aren’t dolts because of what they do believe. (Yeah… even if they are.)
Because no one likes to be made to feel stupid. NO ONE. It’s the fastest route to getting a door slammed, locked, and bolted in your face. You don’t change minds when you alienate or insult people (even when they deserve it).
“It’s totally understandable why you would think that! I thought that for a LONG time. It makes sense, right? Seriously… I know. TONS of people feel that way.”
You get the idea.
Oh… but you feel disingenuous?
Gosh, shucks. That really sucks.
You could go shout at a closed door for awhile – might make you feel better.
If you really care about changing minds though… shut up and suck it up.
If you can convince someone that they don’t have to feel ashamed, or guilty, or stupid, or wrong for what they believe, then they might… MIGHT just crack the door. And if they still don’t, well, throw that clam back in the sea cause that is a bad clam, and bad clams can make you sick.
But if they do crack their door… they just might be receptive to hearing what you have to say, and you can slide from validating their beliefs right on into your own sneaky arguments.
“Man… I love alligators. Who knew that their bite is one of the most powerful live animal bites ever recorded! I mean, I would have thought maybe bears or sharks or something. I only know that becuase my kid did a book report on alligators. He’s a huge fan… They are amazing animals. Can take your arm off before you even know what happened!!
“It does kind of suck that they will eat dogs though… and small kids. Yeah… I wish that wasn’t the case. I would TOTALLY get one otherwise… well, I mean, if I could afford one. I guess it takes about 37 pounds of meat a week to feed one – that could add up…”
You get the idea.
So, if you are interested in changing minds, don’t be one of those people who can’t get over themselves and refuses to step into another’s shoes and empathize before they proselytize.
Don’t be one of those folks who is stuck on BEING RIGHT. They’ve got facts on their side! How could they lose???
The truth is that facts – at this stage of the game – have about as much value as video game tokens at a grocery store. Put ‘em back in your pocket people. No one wants ‘em.
The best arguments in the world are meaningless if you can’t get someone to open their mind (even a little bit) and listen.
And validating someone’s current beliefs is your magic key.
That doesn’t mean that if you validate someone’s beliefs that you have automatically switched them over to your way of thinking. Hardly. Validating is STEP ONE. It OPENS THE DOOR.
But it’s a mighty important step. Everything that follows just bounces off and rolls away down a gutter if you can’t crack the door.