Catalysts are different. They make chemical reactions happen faster – but they’re not consumed in the process. For those who are driving change, being a catalyst is what you want: better results without being used up. The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind is a journey through the techniques that allow people accomplish change without being used up.
Immunity to Change
The key question is “Why hasn’t that person changed already? What is blocking them?” This is the precise question that Immunity to Change tries to answer. Whether it’s a gap between espoused and in-practice beliefs or something as simple as not being aware of the need to change, before we look to coerce or push someone towards change, we should ask why they’re not changing already. Influencer describes ways that you can encourage people to change using six different approaches.
The Catalyst proposes that there are five principles of change:
- Reactance – When pushed, people push back.
- Endowment – If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
- Distance – People don’t want to be persuaded.
- Uncertainty – Change often involves uncertainty.
- Corroborating Evidence – Sometimes one person, no matter how knowledgeable, is not enough.
These principles are echoes of things said by others. For instance, in Diffusion of Innovations, Everett Rogers explains that people need to understand the relative advantage (endowment), that people change their attitudes through people they connect with (distance), and that the changes need to be compatible and trialable (to reduce uncertainty). Compelled to Control explains that while we all want to control others, none of us really wants to be controlled (reactance). In Changing Minds, it covers the idea of “storm the castle” (corroborating evidence).
If you tell jurors to ignore testimony, they may unconsciously weight it more heavily. When you tell people they have to do something, they often resist it more vehemently than they would have had they not been told to do it. We’ve tapped into what Fascinate would call rebellion. It’s what Steven Reiss in his 16 motivators would call independence. (See Who Am I?) Jonathan Haidt, in the foundations of morality, calls it liberty. (See The Righteous Mind.) When people feel as if their freedom and independence is threatened, they sometimes experience a boomerang effect – they more strongly defend their right to not do what they’re being asked to do. (See Decision Making for more on the boomerang effect.)
Paradox of Choice
Specific calls to action result in higher rates of response. However, they can trigger resistance. Giving people options helps them feel like they’re in control. However, too many options will lead to anxiety, as The Paradox of Choice explains. The goal is to offer a set of options – but not too many options. The narrow road between these two points leads to others being willing to change.
As humans, we seek apparent coherence between our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. This need for apparent coherence is addressed in The Joy of Burnout with the idea that the incoherence is friction that stops us from achieving our goals. Opening Up looks at the need for coherence of the story of our lives as fundamental. A failure to achieve coherence in a story is therefore disruptive to our psyche.
Angry with the Help
One of the consistent ways to help endear yourself to others is to remain consistent in your intention to help others – and to repeatedly communicate that intention. When people believe that you’re trying to help them, it’s difficult for them to get – or remain – angry with you.
In Destructive Emotions, the Dalai Lama explains that in Eastern philosophies, anger is disappointment directed. Disappointment is judgement based, and it’s hard to judge that someone should be doing more to help you. This perspective is shared by books like Humble Inquiry and Getting to Yes.
Zones of Acceptance and Rejection
Some messages people accept from anyone, and others they only accept when they feel they have no other answers. Thomas Gilovich explains in How We Know What Isn’t So how we switch the question from “Can I believe this?” to “Must I believe this?” when we move outside of our acceptable zone. The switch in questions is critical, because the standards for the first question are substantially lower than the second.
When working with others, it can be hard to tease out where their zone of acceptability is and where we’ll cross over into the land of rejection. This distinction is important, because we want to deliver messages just inside the edge of acceptability to continue to open them up to further and further zones of acceptance.
Motivational Interviewing does this by first establishing rapport and then beginning to elicit information from the person about their addiction (or reason for counseling) with the ultimate goal of focusing them in on a specific aspect of the problem that is solvable and a strategy to address that area. If we want to change people’s behaviors, we have to know where they’re starting from.
Vitamins and Painkillers
Medicine and pills of all kinds are an essential part of our everyday life, but they’re fundamentally different in the kinds of demands they create. Vitamins are preventative, long-term pills designed to ensure success over the long term. An antibiotic doesn’t resolve any immediate problem but provides medium-term relief for a specific problem. Painkillers, however, solve a specific immediate and important problem.
When you’re describing your change, are you describing it in the language of vitamins – or painkillers? Must the person make this change, or is it just a good idea? Only half of the United States population takes vitamins – but nearly everyone will take a painkiller when they need it.
Ultimately, our goal in creating change is to remove the barriers between the person and the new, desirable behaviors. That means removing small barriers – even if they seem trivial to us – because, as the book Demand explains, small barriers often have a disproportionate blocking capability to their size. Sometimes, the key thing that needs to be unstuck is the aversion to the things they’ll lose and the uncertainty that comes with the change. William Bridges in Managing Transitions focuses on these key problems, indicating that they’re the real barrier to change.
Sometimes, unsticking means backing up and taking a broader view. In others, it means temporarily accepting some untenable premise so that you can hear the other person’s perspective. Maybe when you’re done, and you understand, you can propose a solution that will make you seem like The Catalyst.