Social researcher and Mindstuck author Michael McQueen explores how to persuade the most stubborn person using discoveries from neuroscience and psychology.
What you lead with has an impact. There’s a study in which college students were asked how happy they were. Then they were asked, “How often are you dating?” When the researchers flipped the order of the questions, everything changed. If someone’s thinking their love life’s not great, the first question becomes a primer that influences their perception of the second.
It’s worst to go first. Adam Galinsky at Columbia University researches the way people perceive ideas, proposals or candidates based on the sequence in which they see them. If you go early in a process, those judging your performance are evaluating it against their imagined ideal. If you go later, you’re compared with the pack. Also, save your best for last. The law of recency means whatever is most recent in a person’s mind tends to hold sway.
Moderate people can reconsider. When a person feels they’re at one extreme and you’re at the other, they dig in their heels. Paradoxical thinking is to present someone who has a fixed opinion with an even more extreme perspective. You could say, “Can you believe some people think… ?” In that moment, you’ve created a spectrum where the person is no longer at the extreme. They are now, by definition, moderate.
Unspoken hunches often fall apart the moment they’re put into words. Yale’s Frank Keil talks about the illusion of explanatory depth – we tend to think we know more about a topic than we do. It’s easy for us to cling to an idea that we’d never stand by once it’s spoken out loud.
If you can put something in a picture, rather than words, use the picture. Research tells us images and graphics get more cut-through and are more persuasive. They’re sharable, recognisable and harder to argue with.