‘The Science of Reasoning with Unreasonable People’
The following is verbatim op-ed written by Adam Grant and published at the New York Times on January 31, 2021.
Below, Mr. Moberly has respectfully re-structured Professor Grant’s op-ed with absolutely no change to any word. The perspectives described by and which underlie Professor Grants op-ed, also, I believe, are relevant to each blog post authored by – published @ Mr. Moberly’s ‘Business Intangible Asset Blog’.
Similarly, Mr. Moberly believes it is important to understand…
- how (when, where, what, which, and why) particular circumstances, ala aspirations, projections, and/or risks, etc., influence business leaders, entrepreneurs, management teams, and investors (alike) to initially and repeatedly
2. recognize, as (fiduciary) obligations to, differentiate, safeguard, and competitively – lucratively (ethically) exploit their business’s intangible assets.
This is what readers of this blog are routinely + variously encouraged and asked (persuaded) to do.
In this context, Mr. Moberly trusts the way he presents Professor Grants op-ed here, serves to, among other things,
- bring attention to underlying perspectives embedded in Professor Grants op-ed, which conventional writing – publishing structures and limitations, i.e., spacing, etc., may not otherwise permit.
Professor Grants’ Op-Ed…
Do not try to change someone else’s mind. Instead, help them find their own motivation to change.
A few years ago, I (Professor Adam Grant) made the mistake of having an argument with R, the most stubborn person I know. (I am using the initial R to protect his privacy.)
- R is a longtime friend, and
- when his family came to visit,
- he mentioned that his children had never been vaccinated and never would be.
I am no proponent of blindly giving every vaccination to every newborn, but
- I was concerned for his children’s safety,
- so, I started debunking some common vaccine myths.
- After days of debate, I was exhausted and exasperated.
- Determined to preserve our friendship, I vowed never to talk with him about vaccines again.
Then came 2020…
- Fear of the vaccine may be the greatest barrier to stopping Covid-19.
- It stretches far beyond the so-called anti-vaxxer community,
- About half of Americans harbor questions about the safety of the Covid-19 vaccines, and
- 39 percent say they definitely or probably won’t get one.
I decided to see if I could open R’s mindto the possibility,
- what I did not realize was, that
- my mind would be opened as well.
As an organizational psychologist, I have spent the past few years studying how to motivate people to think again.
- I have run experiments that led proponents of gun rights and gun safety to abandon some of their mutual animosity, and
- I even got Yankees fans to let go of their grudges against Red Sox supporters.
- But I do not always practice what I teach.
When someone seems closed-minded,
- my instinct is to argue, the
- (polar) opposite of their position.
But, when I go on the attack, my opponents either
- shut down or fight back harder.
- On more than one occasion, I have been called a “logic bully.”
When we try to change a person’s mind,
- our first impulse is to preach about why we are right, and
- prosecute them for being wrong.
Yet experiments show that preaching and prosecuting typically backfire, and
- what does not sway people,
- may strengthen their beliefs, e.g., much as a vaccine
- inoculates the physical immune system against a virus,
- the act of resistance
- fortifies the psychological immune system.
Refuting a point of view produces antibodies against
- future attempts at influence,
- making people
- more certain of their own opinions, and
- more ready to rebut alternatives.
That is what happened with my friend.
- If I wanted him to rethink his blanket resistance to vaccines,
- I had to rethink my approach.
Several decades ago, when treating substance abuse problems, psychologists
- developed a technique called motivational interviewing.
The central premise is…instead of
- trying to force other people to change,
- you are better off helping them
- find their own intrinsic motivation to change.
You do that by interviewing them,
- asking open-ended questions
- listening carefully, and
- holding up a mirror so they see
- their own thoughts more clearly.
If they express a desire to change,
- you guide them toward a plan.
In controlled trials, motivational interviewing has helped people, to
- stop smoking abusing drugs and alcohol, and gambling
- improve their diets and exercise
- overcome eating disorders and lose weight.
The (motivational interviewing) approach has also motivated
- students to get a good night’s sleep,
- voters to reconsider their prejudices, and
- divorcing parents to reach settlements.
Recently, thanks to a vaccine whisperer, it (motivational interviewing) has been applied to immunization.
- Arnaud Gagneur is a pediatrician in Quebec
- who encourages reluctant parents to immunize (their) children
In his (Dr. Gagneur’s) experiments, a motivational interview in a maternity ward after birth,
- increased the number of mothers willing to vaccinate their children from 72 to 87 percent,
- the number of children who were fully vaccinated two years later rose by 9 percent
- a single conversation was enough to change behavior over the next 24 months.
I set up a conversation between (Dr. Gagneur) and my friend R,
- after 90 minutes, it was clear to me that
- R’s vaccination stance had not changed.
- “I have tried to apply all the principles of motivational interviewing, but I have had the unpleasant feeling of not doing so well,” (Dr. Gagneur wrote to me in email).
- “R is very knowledgeable and always ends up finding arguments that support his decision.”
Strangely, I did not feel defeated or irritated,
- I wanted to learn how my friend’s views could evolve.
The pioneers of motivational interviewing, William Miller, and Stephen Rollnick,
- have long warned against using the technique to manipulate people.
- It (motivational interviewing) requires a genuine desire to understand people’s motivations and help them reach their goals.
- Although R and I both want to keep his children healthy,
- I realized I had never tried to understand his perspective on vaccines before.
- So, the next morning, I called him.
In our past debates, R had focused only on the potential downsides of vaccinations,
- with Dr. Gagneur, though,
- he (R) acknowledged that vaccines could be good for some, but not necessarily for others.
- if he lived in a country experiencing an outbreak of, say, malaria, would he consider immunization?
- he said “you weigh the pros and cons”
Psychologists find that when we
- listen carefully, and
- call attention to the nuances in people’s own thinking,, they become
- less extreme and more open in their views.
- I wondered how my friend’s ambivalence applied to Covid, (so now)
- I knew that, the kinds of questions I asked, would matter.
Social scientists have found that
- asking people how their preferred political policies might work in practice,
- rather than asking why they favor those approaches, was
- more effective in opening their minds, as
- people struggled to explain their ideal tax legislation or health care plan,
- they grasped the complexity of the problem and recognized gaps in their knowledge.
So, for my second attempt, instead of asking R why he was opposed to Covid vaccines,
- I asked him how he would stop the pandemic.
- He said, ‘we could not put all our eggs in one basket’,
- ‘we needed a stronger focus on prevention and treatment’.
- When I asked whether vaccines would be part of his strategy,
- he said ‘yes — for some people’.
I was eager to learn what might lead R to decide that he is one of those people.
In motivational interviewing, there is a
- distinction between sustain talk and change talk.
- sustain talk is commentary about maintaining the status quo.
- change talk is referencing a desire, ability, or commitment to making a shift.
A skilled motivational interviewer listens for change talk and asks people to elaborate on it.
This was my third step, I asked R
- what the odds were that he would get a Covid vaccine.
- He said, ‘they were “pretty low for many different reasons’.
- I told him it was fascinating to me that he did not say zero.
“This is not a black-and-white issue,” R said. “I don’t know, because my views change.”
- I laughed, “This is a milestone — the most stubborn person I know admits that he’s willing to change his mind?”
- He laughed too, “No, I’m still the most stubborn person you know!
But, at different stages of our lives, we have different things that are important to us, right?”
I do not expect R or his children,
- to be vaccinated any time soon, but
- it felt like progress,
- that he agreed to keep an open mind.
- the real breakthrough, though, was mine.
- I became open to a new mode of conversation, with
- no points to score and no debate to win.
- the only victory, I declared, was
- against my own prosecutor tendencies.
- I had prevailed over my inner ‘logic bully’.
Many people believe that to stop a deadly pandemic, the
- end justifies, whatever
- means are necessary.
It is worth remembering that the means are a measure of our character.
- If we succeed in opening minds, the question is not only whether
- we are proud of what we have achieved.
- we should also ask whether
- we are proud of how we have achieved it.
I no longer believe it is my place to change anyone’s mind.
- All I can do is try to understand their thinking, and
- ask if they are open to some rethinking.
The rest is up to them.
Adam Grant is an organizational psychologist at the Wharton School and the author of “Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know,” from which parts of this article are adapted. His research focuses on motivation, generosity, and creativity.