Changing Minds

Whether you are a leader at work trying to get people to do what they think they can’t (or don’t want to) do, or a worker trying to get a colleague to cooperate, or a gig worker trying to get someone to buy what you are selling, we are all in the business of sometimes trying to change people’s minds.

That is why I was drawn to a Wall Street Journal piece, “How to Change Anyone’s Mind.”

The subtitle, “People instinctively resist being forced to do things differently. Instead of pushing, try removing the barriers that stand in their way.” Here is how it begins:

Everyone has something they want to change. Employees want to change their bosses’ minds, and leaders want to transform organizations. Salespeople want to win new clients, and startups want to revolutionize industries. Parents want to change their children’s behavior, and political canvassers want to sway voters.

But change is hard. We pressure and coax and cajole, and often nothing moves. Could there be a better way?

When trying to change minds, organizations or even the world, we often default to a particular approach: pushing. Boss not listening to that new idea? Send them another PowerPoint deck. Client isn’t buying the pitch? Remind them of all the benefits. When people are asked how they’ve tried to change someone’s mind, my own research finds that the overwhelming majority of the answers focus on some version of pushing.

The intuition behind this approach comes from physics. If you’re trying to move a chair, for example, pushing usually works. Push it in one direction and it tends to go that way. Unfortunately, people and organizations aren’t like chairs; they often push back. Instead, it helps to look to chemistry, where there’s a proven way to make change happen fast: Add a catalyst.

Catalysts convert air into fertilizer and petroleum into bike helmets. But most intriguing is the way they generate change. Instead of adding heat or pressure, they provide an alternate route, reducing the amount of energy required for reactions to occur. Rather than pushing, they remove barriers.

This approach is equally powerful in the social world. I’ve spent over 20 years studying the science of change, interviewing leaders to understand how they change organizations and helping some of them do it. I’ve learned from superstar salespeople how they converted customers, from a hostage negotiator how he got hostage-takers to surrender by understanding what they sought to accomplish, and even from a Jewish clergyman who helped a white supremacist renounce the KKK.

Want more? You can read the article here