If you are like most people, the frequency of getting to “YES” is greater than your declinations, but everyone at one time or another has experienced the frustration of being turned down. Regardless of frequency, when we are on the receiving end of the word “NO,” it stings. For some people, rejection leads to lower levels of self-esteem and prompts negative emotions such as feeling ashamed, dejected, foolish, or embarrassed. While some of us are more resilient to emotional reactivity than others, when our needs and desires are consistently denied, anxiety may develop and subtly, and even unconsciously, influence our future behavior. Expecting a “NO” response can lead to greater conservatism, accompanied by the unwillingness to take a calculated risk, reluctance to try new things, and greater conformity to the wishes and demands of others. Hearing “NO” also is related to more frequent anger, perceptions of unfairness, and general pessimism about life.
However, we need to remember that many of the most successful people on earth have encountered similar rejection experiences. Steve Jobs was once fired from Apple, the Beatles were dropped from their first record contract, Stephen Spielberg was kicked out of film school three times, and Walt Disney was canned as a newspaper reporter because he lacked imagination! Beside being in good company with other illustrious individuals that have become extraordinarily successful, there are evidence-based ways to understand why you may encounter resistance when trying to persuade others. More importantly, motivational science reveals simple strategies that can transform that disappointing “NO” to a welcomed “YES.”
Why do people turn you down?
The first step in getting to “YES,” is determining why people say “NO” in the first place. Social Psychology research is useful to explain negative and resistant responses because the discipline seeks to understand how the beliefs, thoughts, and feelings of individuals are influenced by others. Research investigates how humans form attitudes, succumb to persuasion, and make decisions. How individuals respond to mind-changing efforts can reveal valuable information to predict why individuals use certain products but avoid others, support political or charitable causes, and are useful to understand prejudice and bias toward people and groups. Most of the research focuses on how beliefs about different topics, the self, and others ultimately determines whether or not we are willing to concede or resist the efforts of someone trying to change our minds or influence our behavior.
About 30 years ago psychologists Clark Chinn and William Brewer were trying to figure out why, when it comes to science knowledge, people so ardently cling to their beliefs in spite of evidence to the contrary. For example, many adults, even those with college degrees, often succumb to urban legends and old wives’ tales such as “winter weather can be predicted by studying the thickness of animal fur.” While science has concluded that there is little relation between fur thickness and weather predictions, many people when presented with the “fur dilemma” will ardently defend their personal perspective and hold steadfast to their unjustified beliefs. Chinn and Brewer, through studies of many different science topics, concluded there were seven different ways people responded to information they consider “anomalous”, otherwise known as data that doesn’t fit in with your existing way of thinking, or information that conflicts with your personal beliefs, beliefs which often lead to a negative response from others.
Ignoring usually occurs when individuals are highly committed to their own impressions and beliefs. This type of response is frequently observed when people completely discount your request and don’t even pay attention to you. Rejecting means individuals consider the merits of the information, but neglect to change their minds or behaviors related to the request. Excluding implies that the person you are trying to convince does see some merit in your request, but what you are proposing is not as good or useful as their existing belief or idea. Holding your request in abeyance is a deferral strategy, suggesting neither acceptance nor rejection of your proposal, and instead signifies the intention to revisit the request at another time. Reinterpreting and maintaining a current idea involves serious consideration of the idea with detailed scrutiny, but upon reflection the individual concludes that the request is unjustified, flawed, unclear, or irrelevant, leaving existing opinions intact. Reinterpretation and revision, involves serious evaluation of current ideas and beliefs, because the message is believable and credible. The person may partially adjust their views and opinions about a request, but the revision may lack strength or conviction to completely change someone’s mind. Finally, when an individual is convinced that a request is valid, appropriate, feasible, relevant, and worthwhile, people will change their minds and say “YES.” Change in behavior often follows affirmation.
You may be thinking, wow, the seven reactions to persuasive efforts are interesting and helpful to see WHY people resist change,” but HOW do we overcome the resistance and accelerate the change process to support our persuasion efforts? That’s where the change strategies come in. Once we know WHY people respond unfavorably, we can determine the best corresponding rebuttal strategy to reverse our misfortunes, gain acceptance of our idea or proposal, and overcome the initial resistance; a process often described as conceptual change. Helping people unlearn existing knowledge is done by following five specific steps based upon persuasion research in the fields of education, social psychology, consumer behavior, sales, and economics. These steps outline which factors people consider when making decisions and how specific strategies can be used across topics and settings to create lasting and enduring change.
Create Self Awareness
The first step toward “YES” is being on the mind of the person who you hope to convince. While this step may seem obvious, our needs often take a back seat to more pressing concerns. Getting face time with a certain individual is not the same as being on their mind. If we want to change a person’s mind, or we hope to promote a belief revision, we must start by bringing the issue to the forefront of consciousness. Perhaps there is no better example of this strategy in practice than the campaign tactics of Donald Trump. While I take no stand on Mr. Trump and his political agenda, I know he is remarkably successful at getting into the heads of his competitors, detractors, and the media. Mr. Trump is a news creator, dictating the politics of his rivals. While gaining awareness doesn’t always mean self-promotion, our persuasion target must know who we, understand what is important to us, and be aware of what we want hope to accomplish if we have any chance of overcoming initial resistance.
Having gained awareness for our mind changing initiative, we should focus next on creating some sort of cognitive conflict for the person we are trying to convince. Creating conflict, sometimes referred to as fostering dissonance or disequilibrium, plants a seed of dissatisfaction, dissent, or doubt in the mind of the individual. Conflict doesn’t mean raising hell and being an instigator, but it does mean recognizing that other approaches, beliefs, ideas, or strategies than those currently held by the individual may ultimately prove to be more profitable, efficient, or useful.
The story of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer is an amusing way to illustrate the process of instilling conflict and creating doubt. Rudolph was generally mocked for his electrified proboscis, until there was anxiety and worry among the townspeople about the inability to deliver toys on a dark and stormy Christmas night with the customary reindeer at the helm. The fear of inclement conditions transformed Rudolph’s unsightly red nose from a liability to a highly desirable asset. In real life, advertisers and attorneys use the doubting strategy all the time, by making comparisons with historical failures, or by raising questions about undesirable alternatives. This Chick-fil-A commercial is a prime example of how one stout cow instantly creates conflict and instills doubt in the mind of a hungry diner, and not-so-subtly suggests eating meat is a questionable practice. Once doubt is instilled, we can probe deeper and assess the degree of satisfaction with current ideas, while concurrently prompting the individual to consider why their existing way of thinking may not be the best option, in light of conflicting evidence.
Present Relevant and Plausible Alternatives
Once the door of doubt has become ajar, we must take advantage of the opportunity and resolve the conflict created. First, the person will consider the viability of your suggestion. Does your message make sense? Can your proposal work in practice or is it lofty philosophical rhetoric with no practical value? Most importantly, are your requests and suggestions consistent with the prevailing values, expectations and beliefs of the person or organizational culture? When individuals perceive an idea or recommendation as a threat to personal values and beliefs, the message is likely discounted because self-threats lead to discomfort and anxiety, stalling the motivation to change. Conversely, when a message aligns with individual or company values the reform message is not compromised, enhancing the probability of adaptation and accommodation of alternative conceptions.
We must also be certain our target has a compelling reason to change. If we have followed the previous steps, receptivity to change likely will be enhanced. However, one torrent remains on the road to revision. Some individuals may fully embrace the reasonableness and utility of your suggestions, but still lack dissatisfaction or conflict to change their behavior. Watch people smoking cigarettes, downing double cheeseburgers daily, or driving 90 miles per hour on the highway without seat belts, and you see examples of how people are comfortable with their existing choices. That’s when we turn to the evidence.
Provide Data and Evidence
Change resistors often hold deeply entrenched beliefs based upon personal experience. If you have used the same behavior without consequence for years, why change? The motorcycle rider without a helmet may never have had an accident, the three-pack-a-day smoker externally may be a picture of health. Change efforts may be met with skepticism in absence of strong “refutational evidence.” This type of evidence seeks to persuade individuals to believe that existing representations are flawed in light of inconsistencies with science or reality. The goal of refutation is to encourage the nonbeliever to relinquish an existing belief in favor of another. Evidence can be presented through written text, dialogue, or visual evidence, with each medium designed to reduce allegiance to current perspectives.
Regardless of method, the appeal should be understandable, relevant, and vivid. Anti-smoking commercials and charitable appeals we often see on late-night television are prime examples. However, even in highly personalized situations, we can observe savvy lawyers, deal makers, and politicians rely on statistics, data, and emotions as they attempt to influence your opinion and modify your beliefs. The overall key to successful refutation is using tangible, high-quality evidence that prompts the devotee to think deeply about their current beliefs in light of the evidence.
Making it Stick
We should remember that people are fickle: change can be fleeting and temporary to accommodate the person making the request. Thus, to sustain change we must maintain active involvement in the persuasion effort. In addition, we must acknowledge that many times individuals will be motivated to change, but may lack knowledge concerning how to capitalize on their desires. Thus, getting to “YES” and nourishing enduring change is not a one-shot effort, but a process that requires on-going support and vigilance.
One particularly effective strategy to sustain change is reminding your rival by using thought provoking questions about the topic. If pitching a new product or method, raise questions about possible enriched outcomes as a result of embracing the product/method. If reinforcing personal connection or relevance using persuasion, ask questions like “how would the situation/relationship be different if I were gone?” These types of approaches sustain self-awareness and cognitive conflict over periods of time in an effort to avoid decay of your persuasion victory. Finally, research supports simplistic approaches, such as continually reaffirming the benefits of change, as familiarity often results in permanency because individuals are suspicious of novelty. Don’t overlook the power of disposition as a catalyst for “YES,” as good moods enhance receptivity to conflicting ideas. Finally, when aperson is happy, he or she is far more likely to be accepting, accommodating, and intuitive, showing receptivity to new ideas. Just wear you best smile all the time and you might just get your way!