One of my favorite lines from sales training (that I also know to be true) is that buyers find logical reasons to support emotional decisions. We humans are funny that way. A recent article in the NY Times, When Beliefs and Facts Collide, takes on this topic head-on. What the article said that was most surprising (or maybe not) was that people who have familiarity with the facts but hold a certain belief are more likely to defend their belief, not less. Your heard that right.
No amount of logic will convince us out of a position that logic didn’t get us into.
Belief = identity
Beliefs are often held by groups that form our social environment. Thus we identify with our beliefs so strongly that when a fact challenges our beliefs, it challenges our identity and our social connections. This effect has an enormous affect on our workplaces, our homes and our politics. Need proof? On the Outer Banks of North Carolina, residents were presented with facts that showed that a devastating sea level rise of 39 inches by 2100 would turn their islands into shallow seas. In response, intense lobbying has the State revising the forecast to just the next 30 years and a more palatable 8 inch sea rise. Local residents, presented with partial, more palatable information, are ready to justified continued building and ignoring the problem.
Facts = threats
Simply hammering at a belief with facts is tantamount to raising an enormous threat. We know how humans respond to threats — not with open minds but with fear and retreat to our most basic instincts. If you know someone dead set against vaccination, for example, hitting them hard with facts that show, “Vaccines will prevent the deaths of tens of thousands of children born this year over their lifetime,” won’t change their minds and will in fact harden their position in defense of their identity on this issue.
This is the human condition and armed with this information, no one should be dismayed when logic won’t dislodge irrational belief. Instead, getting through involves finding gradual and non-confrontational ways to shed light on the facts that counter held beliefs. When faced with irrational beliefs, we have two clear choices…we can simply be right or we can be effective in bringing someone to the rational view in a gentle and non-threatening way.