Just How Hard Is It?
Changing people's behavior is the most important challenge
for business leaders competing in unpredictable environments.
"The central issue is never strategy, structure,
culture, or systems," asserts Dr. John P. Kotter, a
retired Harvard Business School professor who specializes
in leadership. "The core of the matter is always about
changing the behavior of people."
Professor Howard Gardner, a lifelong researcher and
expert on the mind, has identified seven levers that leaders
must employ to change minds:
7 Levers to Change a Mind
A mind change is most likely to occur when the first six factors
operate in concert, and when resistance is relatively weak.
Conversely, a change of mind is unlikely to occur when resistances
are strong and the other factors fail to point strongly in
- Reason: When we try to persuade
others, reason plays a pivotal role. Most businesses
rely on analysis and logical processes when making decisions:
identifying relevant factors, weighing each in turn,
and making an overall assessment.
- Research: The scientific approach
collects relevant data and analyzes it in a systematic
manner (often statistical) to verify or cast doubt on
promising trends. (Note: Research needn't always be
- Resonance: Appealing to one's
feelings - and thus creating "emotional resonance"
- is a powerful way to change minds. While one may hear
reason and research arguments, change may occur on an
unconscious level as one develops a connection to the
- Representational Redescriptions:
A change of mind may rely upon utilizing several different
modes that reinforce each other. For example, a PowerPoint
presentation may present the same concept using percentages,
bar graphs, and other graphic images, all of which explain
the same key concept in distinct ways.
- Resources and Rewards: Mind-changing
is sometimes more likely to occur when resources and
rewards are made available (positive reinforcement).
Ultimately, however, unless the new course of thought
is congruent with reason, resonance, and research, it
is unlikely to last beyond the provision of rewards.
- Real-World Events: Wars, terrorists,
natural disasters, and economic depressions can influence
mind-changing. On the positive side, so can prosperity
and peace. It is easier to convince a nation to go to
war after a terrorist attack, even when the facts are
- Resistances: It is unrealistic
to assume that you won't encounter resistance - the
strong force that negatively affects mind change. Research
demonstrates that changing minds becomes more difficult
with age; we develop strong views that are resistant
to change. Any effort to understand the process of changing
minds must take resistance into account.
Changing Minds in an Organization
Getting people to change their minds is harder still when
you're working with large groups. Leaders will experience
greater success when they follow five key approaches:
1. The Power of Stories
Stories can be a key element in changing minds. In a
story, you have a main character, ongoing activities to
achieve a goal, a crisis, and a resolution.
Leaders must analyze the current situation, determine
what needs to change, create a convincing narrative, and
present it to those whose minds they hope to change. Success
depends on the narrative's effectiveness, whether it is
convincingly conveyed, and how leaders embody the presentation.
The more personal and authentic the story, the more people
will identify with common themes.
2. The Power of Variety
One's level of familiarity with a concept determines
how we successfully process and accept it. Delivering the
same content in multiple forms is a powerful way to change
people's minds. People must not only hear the message, but
also see it - often in the form of images, graphs, and diagrams.
Using more than one delivery method gives people an opportunity
to form mental representations in their preferred learning
3. The Power of Resistance
When it comes to changing someone's mind, Gardner says,
"The biggest mistake people make is not understanding
the other's resistances." Each of us has ingrained
beliefs, and we're committed to maintaining our opinions.
What never works when trying to change someone's mind
is a direct assault on his or her point of view. When you
go in determined to change someone, you're triggering defensiveness.
Even the most eloquent argument is likely to fail if you
lack insight about the person you're trying to sway. Once
you understand someone's resistance, you can try to find
a common solution.
4. Appealing to Emotions
Emotional persuasion isn't taught in business schools,
nor does it come easily.
According to Dr. George Lakoff, a professor of linguistics
at the University of California at Berkeley, "Concepts
are not things that can be changed just by someone telling
us a fact. We may be presented with facts, but for us to
make sense of them, they have to fit what is already in
the synapses of the brain. Otherwise, facts go in and then
they go right back out. They are not heard, or they are
not accepted as facts."
Because of the way the brain learns, messages have a
better chance of being retained when our emotional centers
are engaged. When individuals experience a positive emotional
resonance with the person trying to change their minds,
they're more easily persuaded-a phenomenon that can occur
even in the absence of reasonable facts to support change.
5. The Power of Ongoing Communication
Change feels more natural when you have participation
and engagement at all levels. Introduce ideas into the mainstream
without excessive use of authority. When more people can
contribute to finding solutions, communicating well and
helping each other, there is a better chance of achieving
real behavioral change. Change initiatives are more likely
to fail when there are no ongoing discussions or support.
In summary, changing minds is not easy, but there are
clear methods for increasing the probability of effecting
real behavioral change. Provision of coaching services is
highly recommended to support change initiatives.
Do you know someone who would like to change some minds? Please forward this newsletter to them. If you know someone who would like to experience coaching, my offer of a free coaching session is always available. Just give me a call or drop me a note.