Find the Root
We are all in this together. By ourselves. – Lily Tomlin
While 2020 is fast becoming the year you will always remember or the one you can’t forget, what appears to be true is the fact that we are all going through monumental cultural, economic, and political turmoil. And while we might all experience something together, it doesn’t mean we each leave with the same experience or lessons. Those come individually. Change, both short and long term, is clearly being catalyzed from all this turbulence. But we don’t know yet how these winds of change will play out in the lives of individuals.
Jonah Berger, a marketing professor at Wharton has written a new book entitled, The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind. He argues the best way to generate successful change is not to become a better persuader or pusher. It’s about removing roadblocks that prevent people from taking action. It’s what hostage negotiators do when they try to ease the situation rather than starting by knocking down the door. It’s why I wasn’t a very good driving instructor for my daughters because I thought my telling them louder and harsher would improve their driving. Turns out they weren’t hard of hearing.
Berger suggests a series of roadblocks need knocked down to promote successful changes in behavior. Chief among them is reactance, our sort of inborn radar system that quickly surfaces when we think someone is trying to forcefully persuade us of something we don’t necessarily believe or want to do. It comes out even when we might agree with the person trying to convince us of something. People need to persuade themselves of changes.
Consider for a moment Proctor & Gamble’s introduction in 2018 of the product called Tide Pods, designed to eliminate the muss and fuss of pouring the right amount of detergent into the washing machine. No one could have anticipated the future problem from selling these handy tablets. People started eating them! News organizations started covering this phenomenon as kids especially challenged each other. Tide quickly disavowed this by telling people NO, DON’T DO THIS and enlisted celebrity football player Gronk to assist them in making a video with the same message. The result? With the new publicity, kids ate even more of them. Again, I refer to my daughters. Telling them who not to date most assuredly made those boys more attractive to them.
How do we get people to persuade themselves of a better path? Pushing, cajoling, and telling people what to do often backfires with adults and teenagers. Research is pretty clear about the importance of individual autonomy in decision making. People want to decide things for themselves and we can better assist them by asking questions, highlighting gaps between attitudes and behavior, and offering options. Stop telling and convincing. Start asking and understanding. Berger offers a weed analogy. The quickest way to weed a garden is by ripping weeds out. However, if only the top is pulled, the weed quickly grows back. To really rid yourself of weeds, or change minds, find the root. In the root lies the truth if we can discern it.