Persuading people around to your way of thinking is a difficult task, particularly if they’ve already made up their mind. This stubborn intransigence manifests itself in all manner of life. From the child who won’t eat up his greens to the bun fights in the House of Commons.
It’s the reason heart-felt petitions are filed straight into the bin, and it’s also why football fans believe that playing at home in the second leg of a two-legged game provides a better chance of winning the tie. But it’s simply not true if you take a closer look at the stats. Which is exactly what the formidable sounding midfield trio of researchers from Munich University did. Herrs Eugster, Gertheiss and Kaiser studied the results of European ties between 1994 and 2010 and discovered that the chances of winning are exactly 50:50, whether you play at home first or second. Unless, of course, it goes to penalties when the stats show that the British team are all but doomed.
Despite this fact, football fans travel to the away leg of their team’s two-legged tie cup tie with the cheery thought that no matter what disaster befalls them, they can turn it around in the home tie. ‘We’ve done it before, we can do it again.’ Why such confidence? Well, because like most long-held beliefs, once an opinion is formed, we look for as much evidence as possible to support it. Even if the stats don’t really add up.
You see, we resent having our attitudes adjusted by others, and so resist it at all costs. So it’s best if people change their own minds. It’s difficult to do it for them. People will listen to themselves and automatically generate arguments that have personal relevance. It’s called self-persuasion and the theory was tested by two researchers from Yale University.
Despite sounding like a hairy pop duo from the early seventies, Janis and King managed to persuade students to take part in an experiment that didn’t involve smoking anything first. Instead, all they had to do was give a talk on a subject to two of their fellow students to try to persuade them about something. Then they swapped things around so each student had a turn at giving the talk.
Janis and King discovered that the students were more convinced by the talk that they gave themselves than when they listened passively to the same argument put forward by their fellow students. This suggests that we really are persuaded more strongly when we make the argument ourselves, even if it isn’t in line with our own viewpoint. That’s probably why it’s a good idea to rehearse speeches and presentations out loud – not just to hear how it sounds but to make the final performance all the more convincing.
Pablo Briñol of Madrid University added more weight to the theory when he studied attitudes to smoking. He found that people were more likely to be put off smoking when they delivered an anti-smoking message themselves than when they passively received it. Simply saying it out loud was more convincing.
So here’s how to get someone to come around to your way of thinking. Simply ask them to put aside their own attitude and beliefs for a moment and try to see it from your point of view. Then ask them to argue the case if they were ~ hypothetically ~ to hold your beliefs. Before you know it, by generating their own arguments on the subject, they will be more inclined to your way of thinking and to changing their mind.