Posted by: Ornella Farrugia
on Fri 15 Dec

At December’s Leaders’ Lunch, we welcomed Mark Lorch, Professor of Science Communication and Chemistry at University of Hull, to share his great insights on how to change people’s minds without the facts.

Facts and rational arguments really aren’t very good at altering people’s beliefs. In science, we spend so much time analysing facts, that when it comes to presenting the results, we believe that the facts and evidence is all we must present. But we forget that this is not how all people think.

People are irrational: cognitive scientists, Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber, argue that reason developed not to enable us to solve abstract, logical problems, but to resolve the problems posed by living in collaborative groups.

In addition to that, we are social animals, so it seems that being right is not as important as our status in society (from an evolutionary standpoint). The influence of our peers is big: we constantly compare our actions and beliefs to those of our peers and then alter them to fit in. We are more likely to believe and trust a piece of information if our social group does too.

So, what do we do when facts and evidence don’t work? Prof Mark Lorch highlighted that the key is to understand how the processes for decision-making work and, from that, we can better form our choices and behave strategically with regard to another individual.

The first step is to detect our own biases. Become aware that we tend to embrace information that supports our beliefs and reject the ones that contradict them. We need to start searching for evidence disproving our beliefs rather than confirming them and not be afraid to admit when we don’t know something or when we are wrong.

Develop your storytelling skills: by introducing individuals to situations beyond their everyday experience, it is possible to increase empathy and perspective-taking towards others.

Finally, try to look for the common ground and build on it. Tailor your message to the audience.

These are just some key highlights taken from December’s Leaders’ Lunch. Each month, clients of the Innovation Programmes receive a full ACT report, capturing the guest expert’s research, the implications and next steps for leaders to apply back in their team and organisation.

Next month, clients will discover how individuals and organisations can improve their network capability.

Sources: Lorch, M. (2017) ‘Change People’s Minds without the Facts’, KnowledgeBrief Leaders’ Lunch Presentation, 6 December; Mercier, H. and Sperber, D. (2017) The Enigma of Reason, Harvard University Press, April 2017.

Facts and scientific consensus are still critically important. But an awareness of the flaws in our thinking allows us to present our point in a far more convincing fashion.

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