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The Big Idea - How to change people’s minds - Pt. I

I read...a LOT. When I come across wonderful ideas from my favourite books, I love to distill the ideas into a form my students can read and enjoy. The ideas below came from a wonderful book by Jonah Berger called Catalyst. The book is great. The ideas are academic (also, GREAT!).

Step 1 - Stop trying to change people’s minds

This may appear to be hugely counterintuitive, but the first step toward changing a person’s mind is to stop that nonsense!!! Your instinct tells you that by being reasonable, having a clear idea, explaining it logically, and persuading the person with sound and complete logic will do the trick. Sometimes, it might. Often, it won’t. Human beings are stubborn and wired to react with yet more stubbornness when someone tells you to do something or that your idea is wrong. Consider your own anecdotal experiences. Have you ever been told to do something and fought against the plan like an irate hedgehog being asked to try a slice of hedgehog pie? I think we all have. Your idea is being challenged and just doesn’t want to go along with it. We dig in our heels and fight back. Therefore, stop trying to persuade people.

Step 2 - Provide a menu

Now that you stopped trying to persuade people, you can now secretly and deviously persuade them without them knowing it. Muwahahahahahahahahahaha. Here’s your arsenal of options. First, the simplest. Give people a menu of options and let them choose. Oh my, oh my. Teachers and mums love this one. “Would you like to vacuum the floor or wash the dishes?” NEITHER! Yet, I have a choice. Would you like to do page 45 for homework or page 46? NEITHER! Yet, I have a choice. Choices matter. Consider the opposite. “Do the dishes, Reginald.” How does Reginald feel? He feels like he has no liberty, freedom, or free-will. He’s a card in a deck controlled by a dictator - his Mum. Reginald would rather fight and die for the right to NOT do the dishes than to blindly accept his Mum’s cruel and callous order. Although, mums are wily and devious. Crafty mums don’t do that. They provide a choice of options - all of which the crafty parent wants to be done. Give people a choice of options and notice how they fold like paper. Tell them to do one thing and watch their will become iron. *IMPORTANT CAVEAT* Do NOT ask Reginald, “What would you like to do?” He’ll just keep kissing the fish tank.

Step 3 - Ask, don’t tell

The next step of Professor Berger’s guide to overcoming resistance is to always ask, but never tell. We kind of mentioned this previously, but let’s just imagine this is the first time you heard it, okay? OKAY???? Imagine you want to get a class of awfully lovely students to do more homework. Option A) “You wasters never do homework. This is outrageous. You’re lazy. You need to do more work.” Does this achieve our operational goal of getting more homework? A bit, but not much. Option B) Get Socratic. Socrates developed a method of leading people to conclusions by asking questions.

Teacher: Who knows how to score well on the Harvard University entrance test?

Kids: Hmmm….not us! Do you know?

Teacher: It takes a lot of work. Do you know what skills you need to be able to pass the interview?

Kids: Wow. I didn’t know there was an interview! That’s nuts. What do we need to know?

Teacher: Well, you need to be able to speak in academic paragraphs and analyse ideas deeply. Kids: Hang on a minute! Our homework was to academically construct paragraphs and analyse an idea deeply! If we simply do our homework, we can directly practice the ideas valued by Harvard, gain admittance, and live a long and prosperous life as a consequence!

Teacher: That’s a great idea!

Step 4 - Demonstrate the idea, don’t tell it

I know, I know. More not telling. Professor Berger gives an example in his book of how Thailand lowered the smoking rate among adults. When people were told to not smoke, they didn’t stop. When they were shown pictures of diseases on cigarette packets, it didn’t move the needle. So, some wise people tried a different idea. They got a 9 year old girl to walk up to people smoking in the street. The kid was holding a cigarette and asked the person smoking to light their cigarette. The people smoking went nuts! “These things will kill you!” “They’re dangerous. You shouldn’t smoke.” Afterwards, the girl gave them a small folded note that said, “You care about my life, but why don’t you care about your own life?”. The girl was making the people say the ideas themselves. “These things will kill you.” -> These things will kill me! Show people the idea and let them find the idea themselves. They will change their minds and it will stay changed.

Step 5 - Be empathetic

The book is full of wonderful examples and another sums up this idea. Whenever an FBI negotiator has to speak with someone holding hostages or threatening to do something terrible, they never TELL them to stop. Instead, they ask them simply, “Are you okay?”. They don’t push them to do what they should do. They try to reach the person first and work from there. Author’s note: I’m not an FBI negotiator, but I discovered the best way to help kids with problems in my classes was to go outside, away from everyone and ask them the same question. “Are you okay?” rather than, “What’s wrong with you? You’re ruining the class!”.

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