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We don’t like changing our minds

In recent years psychologists have uncovered two powerful forces that stop us changing our minds

Firstly once we’ve made a decision we tend to stick with it – this is known by psychologists as the “Commitment” effect. This is why charities start by getting us to donate just a couple of pounds, and then persuade us to donate more.

Because of this we all tend to post-rationalise our decisions. Doing this is easier than admitting we are wrong.

The proble is that every time you ask somebody to explain a decision, then they are forced to post-rationalise it more, which deepens the strength of their beliefs.

The problem of “Commitment” then interacts with the second problem – if you are more closely linked to your family and community, then it’s harder to disagree with them.

Psychologists point out that the more deeply linked you are to your community the more likely you are to be polite and avoid conflict in debate. This split between rude and peaceful or polite and violent is, according to Connor and Markus, rooted in two different approaches to life: “Interdependence” and “Independence”. Those who depend more on others tend to be poorer – after all they rely on their family and community to get by. To avoid insults and violence, people use politeness. They found this split applied around the world.

For more confident, economically secure people there are less downsides to being rude in debate –Annoy your family and community and it doesn’t matter so much.

Yet this approach is exactly how we often go about changing people’s minds. We use arguments that seem rude. And we unintentionally entrench other people’s views.

So what’s the solution?

Firstly don’t re-fight old arguments. You won’t win them – in fact, you’ll make things worse.

350 years ago Blair Pascale suggested that before discussing an area of disagreement, look for an area where you agree. It is on these common principles that minds are changed.  As you develop common ground then you may find it easier to agree on common solutions.

Secondly, be aware of your own style of communicating.

Look for topics where you can use your feelings positively.

And to be truly persuasive, consider that you too may be wrong. Paradoxically, being ready to change your mind is probably the best way to persuade somebody to agree with you.