kaleidoscope has no real practical function. Kids use it as a toy. Yet this tool, patented 200 years ago this year, offers a valuable lesson for communicators.

Let’s start with the notion that a lot of really smart people share a particular trait. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos once observed that they tend to change their minds a lot.

Being sure of yourself can be a sign of consistency and conviction. Yet to Bezos it’s a weakness too. He said that people who are right much of time are also people who reflect and reconsider a lot. They welcome new perspectives that challenge them.

It’s not always easy to change our minds. Whether about the big issues of the day or private interactions, we can get fixed in our views. We seek information that supports our beliefs and dismiss sources that push back.

For anyone in communications, that’s a huge issue. How do you shift or shape opinions when people already feel certain?

You’d think that rationale people would be open to logic. Yet reason alone doesn’t always win arguments. We all filter facts through our feelings, predispositions and experiences.

A few years ago, The New Yorker described a study by a team of pediatricians and political scientists. They segmented 2,000 parents, and targeted each group with one of four pro-vaccination campaigns. Each campaign used a different strategy.

  • One ran through basic information on the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine, and the lack of evidence if its link to autism.
  • Another campaign went deeper into the technical details on the dangers of the diseases that the MMR vaccine prevents.
  • A third campaign used photos of children who suffered from the MMR diseases.
  • A fourth wrote about an infant who almost died of measles.

So which strategy – facts, science, emotions or stories – made people change their minds? None. Overall, the campaigns didn’t change negative attitudes towards vaccination or the parents’ intent to vaccinate. In some cases, the parents became even more entrenched in their views.

Why does this happen?

In one study, researchers put people inside in a functional MRI scanner and then started to challenge their deeply held political convictions. The parts of the brain that are linked with self-identity and negative emotions lit up. In essence, the brain perceived a threat.

“The brain’s primary responsibility is to take care of the body,” says Dr. Jonas Kaplan, a psychologist at the University of Southern California and one of the researchers. “The psychological self is [an] extension of that. When our self feels attacked, our [brain is] going to bring to bear the same defenses that it has for protecting the body.”

Our existing judgments are often incredibly difficult to shake. That’s a challenge not only for public relations, communications and marketing professionals, but for anyone; we’re all in the sales business now.

That’s what Daniel Pink says. Pink has written extensively about work, management and behavioural science. He says our jobs, in some way, relate to persuading people. Whether you’re selling a product, service idea or yourself, you’re looking to change minds. It’s about the new ABCs, says Pink.

In sales, ABC used to mean “always be closing”. Now, says Pink, it stands for attunement, buoyancy and clarity.

1. Are you attuned to the needs, wants, hopes, dreams and concerns of your audience? You want them to see things from your perspective, but do you also try to look at things through theirs? Find common ground, and built your case on that foundation.

2. Buoyancy is the ability to stay afloat in an ocean of rejection, says Pink. People won’t always buy what we’re selling. You have to bounce back from their rejections, or even pre-empt them. Pink suggests articulating why someone might not be swayed by your appeal. It might reveal the shortcomings in your case, which you can then try to bolster.

3. Clarity is about offering the signal amidst all the noise. Help people to navigate what Pink calls the murk of information, and drill down to the essence.

Trying to change someone’s mind (or your own) takes lots of effort. You have to look deeply into multiple sides of an issue. What truly helps you to see those facets?

If a tool could do it, would it be a microscope that allows you to magnify tiny objects? A telescope that lets you zero in on things that are distant? Both are helpful. However with the first you might get lost in the details. And with the second you might see the big picture but miss the important nuances.

Unlike a microscope or telescope, a kaleidoscope isn’t really a useful optical device. It’s for fun. Yet it gets at the idea of expanding our minds. There are multiple reflecting surfaces in a tube, at several angles. Rotate it, and you see changing patterns of colour. It looks magical.

When you’re trying to persuade people, use the proverbial kaleidoscope. A little twist can reveal new patterns. Looking through a new lens can colour how we think. So enable people to see all angles, and see theirs too. Be attuned to them. And offer brilliant clarity.

Stuart Foxman is a Toronto-based freelance writer, who helps clients’ products, services, ideas and organizations to come alive. Follow me on Twitter @StuartFoxman, connect with me here on LinkedIn, or check me out at foxmancommunications.com. I would love to hear from you. More articles like this coming, with original posts every week about communications, writing, branding, creativity, media, marketing, persuasion, messages, etc., etc.

May 4, 2017


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