Psychologists call it ‘The backfire effect’. Here’s how to avoid it.
Science advances steadily along the path to proving that humans are doomed monkeys.
The latest example to grab my attention was a study from the University of Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute.
Basically, they stuck a bunch of people in an MRI (brain scanner), and watched what happened when they gave people provocative opinions.
So if you were pro-gun you might be given a statement like “Gun laws should be made tighter to save lives.”
If you were left-leaning, you might get something like, “Gay marriage should be illegal.”
What they found was that the part of the brain that lit up – the Amygdala – was the exact same part of the brain that lit up when you are under physical attack.
That is, as far as the brain is concerned, an attack on your ideas and a physical attack on your body is treated pretty much as one and the same.
The way the psychologists describe it is that the brain will fight hard to defend its ‘world view’.
Your world view is an abstraction of reality that allows you to navigate a complex world. If you had to meet every issue and every moment on its merits, it’d be totally overwhelming and you’d never get anything done.
And so we develop world-views – heuristics that allow us to sort through and work with the complex information we are continually bombarded with.
And because they allow us to do this, world views are incredibly valuable. We’d literally be lost with out them.
But because they are so valuable, the brain will go to great lengths to defend them. And anything that attacks them will be treated as seriously as a physical attack.
As far as the brain is concerned, our world views are as valuable as limbs.
And what that means is that you can never ‘win’ an argument. Nope. Not if you’re trying to convince them of something that doesn’t fit with their world view. It doesn’t’ matter how much you yell into the YouTube comments.
Once you have given someone something that threatens their world view, you’ve triggered their defences and you can pretty much give up.
From that point on, it just doesn’t matter how fancy your arguments or how persuasive your evidence, the brains self-defence mechanism has been triggered, and an individual will contort themselves into all sorts of shapes to keep their world view.
So the trick to sales, negotiation and all forms of persuasion is to be very conscious of where someone’s world view is at. You need to watch for them the way a solider watches for land mines.
Once you’ve found them, you then need find something that marries their world view with your idea or product.
So if you were trying to sell increased military spending to Waleed Aly, you might say, we need to do this to protect our liberal values from fascist aggressors overseas.
If you were selling it to Tony Abbott, you might say, we need to do this to project strength and assert our position in the region.
That’s a basic example, but you see what I mean. You can’t argue against someone’s world’s view. You just can’t. People will literally feel attacked.
And you can’t convince someone if you’re the enemy.
Work within someone’s world view. There’s where your power to influence lies.