Tuesday, November 27, 2012


The Problem

There is a general feeling that clever people who know "the tricks" can persuade a person to do almost anything.  The odd part is, that we ourselves do not feel that we can persuade anybody to do anything.  We feel weak and powerless.  If this is how you feel, then a change in point-of-view may be in order: view yourself from a positive point-of-view. Think about persuasion this way.  When was the last time someone actually "persuaded" you to do something you really didn't want to do?  Let's say you did change your behavior.  Did you resolve in your mind to reform your life?  Or, more likely, did you act as if you were changed, but at the earliest opportunity you continued to do what you wanted to do? What if you are the one expected to persuade others?

There are times when all of us want to be able to change the world.  Sometimes an assignment from your boss requires that there must be changes and you were chosen to "make the changes happen." In order to do that, we have to change people.  Once the assignment has been accepted what should be happening to your thought patterns.

The intent of the following is a short guide to use when you have been assigned to "persuade your clients" to make a change. This is not a simple assignment, and your boss wants results. When we attempt to change people we run into some massive problems.  Here are some things to consider.

We Are Built Over Time

Most of us have positions which we have developed over time. These positions seem to work for us and those that we travel with are often in agreement.  Indeed, those we travel with us helped to create and maintain those positions. We learn things and use them.  We learned them in the past and we use them currently.  So we have a tendency to "live in the past."

When faced with a problem it might require that we change our positions in order to solve the current problems.  But, the impact of that change can be huge.  It may require rebuilding whole sections of our position and when we are done, we may not be happy.  That makes changes hard for all of us.  We discover, compare, become uncomfortable with our old position and reluctantly make changes to our carefully constructed positions.

In addition, those we travel with are accustomed to us and our positions. Since they helped to build and maintain our positions they may share a great deal with us.  When we alter our positions that may not be comfortable for them.  That may cause them to change their behavior toward us and now they will very likely make us uncomfortable as well. These changes can affect every aspect of your life.  If positions are working now, why take a chance and make changes.  Because as conditions change or we become aware of conditions which do not fit our solutions, we are forced to adjust. With these thoughts in mind, let's show a little respect for any and all attempts to change those around us.

What Are Positions?

When discussing positions they usually fall into these categories: attitudes, beliefs, values and behaviors. Moms and dads lay the foundation for most of them.  Life experiences and other people tend to round out these positions over time. Educational institutions tend to fill in gaps and round out what moms and dads are doing and have done.

We are often very upset when any of our positions must be altered. The key word there is "we." We do the changing and others often take the credit or the blame.  But change happens.  Given that we do the changing and you want me to change what can you do or say that will change me. We are not blank slates waiting for someone or something to write on, we come with answers to questions built in. Instead, as Jonah Lehrer says in Why We Don't Believe in Science, "we come equipped with all sorts of naive intuitions about the world, many of which are untrue."

When anyone tries to change you they are doing something that may be, and in fact is likely unwelcome. Lehrer reports that; "This means that science education is not simply a matter of learning new theories. Rather, it also requires that students unlearn their instincts, shedding false beliefs the way a snake sheds its old skin."  

Why Change

A question we might be expected to ask is, "What reason do I have to believe that my parents are stupid and that they have lied to me in my youth?" And internal status is much more than parents and family.  It is all those people with whom we have been traveling.  There is a great deal we have come to "understand and believe" over the years. When you begin the process of "position change" it isn't only what you do to yourself, but what others will think of you since they may not be making the same change. As a result, not changing your position is easier than making the change.

Stable attitudes, beliefs, values and behaviors are desirable and useful to society and to us.  When those elements shift a great deal of adjustment is required by all involved.  Things are said: "We haven't done much with the Smiths lately.  They're off trying out some harebrained ideas." "I haven't talked to Bob in months.  He's gone off the deep end politically."  "I would love to have them over, but I don't know what they can or can't eat." "I don't know what's going on there.  I don't think he even goes to church anymore."

So, if your assignment is, "Persuade them that this is the most desirable course of action for everyone," you may be in for a difficult time. What should you do?  First, acquire data.  In fact we all should create a data mining process that will expose us to pivotal data.  That can't come from a single source, such as a network, newspaper, person or book. Make it generally agreed upon dependable sources. Look at the news about the United States as published in several foreign newspapers, for example. Don't depend on MSNBC or Fox to tell you what is going on here. The data alone may be enough to start the process of change.  

Data Should Be the Key

Present the data in clear, easy to recall packages that have immediate application. Use critical thinking in the arrangement of the data and its presentation.

Critical thinking: "Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness." 

Two of these terms carry heavy loads: reasoning and communication.  When you have someone's attention you need to supply data and in a reasonable way.  Good data poorly reasoned is ignorable.  Good data well reasoned and delivered is valued and remembered. Good data, well reasoned and carefully organized is easier to follow and recall.  Now those you seek to change can use what you have supplied to make changes in their position.

What To Do

If your presentation does not ask for a position change, you are probably making an instructional/informational presentation. If the position change requested can be avoided by your audience or you, it will be thought of as an option: interesting but not worthy of a change in course. At this point your temptation will be to think of "them" as being stubborn, ignorant, unwilling to change and controlled by the status quo. Keep in mind that you have likely been working on changes in your own positions and you  don't think of yourself in those terms. 

Here are some ideas that should help you during the process of attempting to change people. First, who are you?  Know yourself.  Examine your position and how it came to be. Understand it's usefulness and drawbacks. Balance fact and belief based positions and sort out those that are fact based. (There is no suggestion here that beliefs are not valuable.  They are, but often they are not fact based.) Do you hold positions with which you are currently uncomfortable? Ask your yourself why you haven't changed your position and what it would take to make you change.  When you have managed to make the change does your original position make it's presence known in various ways? Do you feel free and easy with the new position in all circumstances? If not, what would it take to be free of the old position and wholly unconcerned about the new position?

Second, who do "they" think I am?  Do they know you and if so within what context. Do they think you can reliably supply useful data that they can trust and use? What do they believe your motive to be?

Third, who are" they"?  Do they feel the "need" for change? Are they comfortable with their position and feel balanced? Are they curious and driven by the need to push back ignorance? If not, then you may be attempting to affect change while they are merely curious. Not even careful scientists are able to always push back ignorance and often finding themselves defending positions they hope are true.

Fourth, who do they think they are?  Do they "know that they are right" and have a comfortable widely accepted position?  Do they already "know" and feel little or no need to gather more data?  If that is their position, You have almost no chance to aid them in making position changes. Probably the safest thing to do is create a feeling of "unbalance" with their current position so that they will listen and look for a way to resolve the feeling of unbalance.

If you have no choice and must continue the attempt to aid "them" to make a change in their position there may be some things possible. First, find a way to catch and hold their attention.  Second, establish your credibility or believability.  Let them know that you can actually be trusted to provide what they will need to make safe and dependable position changes. Third, create conflict between the data they are learning and hopefully trusting and the position they currently hold. That would be the unbalance that they will need to resolve. Show them a way to resolve the conflict quickly, properly and effectively with a minimum of damage to their current position and this will help them to regain their balance. Make the data as easy to store and recall as possible.

Fourth, suggest solutions to problems that will naturally arise as a result of their position change. Remember, those problems will be both internal and external.  If the conflict you create is too great they may just ignore your data.  If it seems to be resolvable, then they may suppress the old position leaving the new position in a dominate position.

Do not attempt to expunge the old position. In any case, they won't be able to do that, but they might be able to live comfortably eventually with the new position. Don't attempt to prove you are "right." That means that they and all their friends and relatives are "wrong" and that may be just too much.  Instead, encourage them to view the data as being the most important element.  Encourage them to gather even more data than you have presented and to accept the fact that positions should be processes, not fixed truths. Admit to them that life is a process and that processes mean change and since it is inevitable constantly digging data and using critical thought is the best hope for us all.

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