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Changing minds against you: Overcoming resistance to change

woman blue suit standing on chair in field arm stretched to side palm up in stop gesture

In a nutshell

  1. Ignoring those people set staunchly against you may not be an option in an increasingly tight and competitive market.
  2. To change minds set against you, you must understand their reasoning and what method will help to shift their perspective.
  3. There are core principles to abide by, plus targeted strategies depending on the catalyst.

Can you afford to ignore people set against you?

No matter who you are, you will likely have people that don't believe in what you believe in. If you're a brand, there will be a group of people who don't like what you stand for or the product(s) you sell. If you're an organisation, there will likely be some subgroup of the population especially resistant to your message or mission.

When economies are growing, brands typically ignore these people.

Likewise, marketers faced with getting compliance for a new social policy will rightly focus on getting to 80 or 90 percent compliance because it is cost effective and will make a significant difference.   

But economies are not growing. If you want your brand to succeed in the current climate, you are likely going to have to steal share from your competitors.  

For businesses - if you could persuade your staunch rejectors to change their minds, what additional revenue would that generate? 

For organisations - When you reach 90% compliance for a behaviour change for social good or legal compliance, can you afford to give up on the last 10%? What might the cost be in social harm or personal disadvantage? 

Context matters

A nudge here. A default choice there. Some cunning choice of architecture. These are all options in the behavioural science tool kit. 

However, good behavioural science practitioners will tell you that there is no one size fits all.

Why? Because context matters. 

An important context is whether you are influencing someone who is willing to make the change you want.

In this context, think of people you might describe as ‘brand rejectors’ or those who are ‘hard to reach’ or ‘resistant to change’.  

It's important to recognise that there is not just one reason or trigger for why people have set their mind against something. It’s important to understand the reasons or triggers behind your particular rejectors because it affects how you should go about changing their mind - and then, their behaviour. 

Common principles to changing minds

There are four key principles to keep in mind across-the-board when coming up against people set against you.

1. Listen, really listen – and don’t argue.

Listening is hard. As soon as someone says something that we disagree with, or we know to be untrue, we want to wade in there to refute and argue. That response is about the listener - not the person expressing the views - and the person knows that. By telling them they are wrong, you are removing agency and control. People don’t like that, and they will defend against it which entrenches their beliefs. 

2. Find something you agree upon

Finding something you agree on is a very powerful tactic. You might hold opposing views about whether your local council should invest in cycleways, but can you agree on what you value about the city you live in? Now you have something you can build on instead of starting from the point of dismantling someone’s opinion. 

3. Choose only one argument.

Our brains make an average of arguments. For example, if you have a point that is 90 per cent persuasive and another point 50 per cent and a third point 25 per cent, if you argue all three, your overall persuasiveness will be near 50 per cent whereas your one strong argument would have got you 90 per cent. (it’s called AED argument efficiency decline). Skilled lawyers and debaters will tell you that it is a mistake to try to dismantle every argument the opposition throws at you. Pick one and make it one where you have the strongest case.

4. Accept the change you get

Accepting the change you get can be tough. Ask yourself: have we moved the dial? Are people being safer at work even though they do not comply precisely with the rules you have put in place? Has someone stopped hating your brand even though they have not moved far enough to buy it, yet?  

Targeted strategies

While there are overarching principles for changing minds, there are more targeted strategies that relate specifically to the trigger or catalyst that caused the mindset. 

Typically catalysts fall into one of four triggers which we group into our EGO-B framework. 

1. Experience

Dislike is triggered by bad experiences which could be customer service or product or user experience for example leading to a strong dislike. We call this Experience. People who are in this category are likely to feel angry, demeaned and disappointed.  

Discover more about the Experience catalyst.

2. Gossip and rumour

Moving along the continuum, minds can also be set against organisations or brands on the basis of second-hand information (media, word of mouth for example) i.e. the power of gossip. We call this Rumour. People who are against you for this reason are likely to be experiencing confirmation bias and the strong sway of social proof. 

Discover more about the Gossip catalyst.

3. Otherness and unfamiliarity

Next is unfamiliarity. People will say they do not like things that they have never tried and will hold a negative state of mind about outliers and otherness in general. We call this Familiarity. The people here are likely to exhibit a flight response due to a fear of the new and unknown. 

Discover more about the Otherness catalyst.

4. Belonging. Identifying with groups through shared belief

Finally, we have the extreme of prejudice. Prejudice is a tough one to shift because it is embedded in identity and sense of belonging with like-minded people. Emotions of both alienation and control reign paramount here.  

For each of these catalysts we need to consider the human factors and the hurdles in order to define strategies to overcome these. 

Discover more about the Belonging catalyst.

Colleen Ryan
Partner at TRA
Colleen has a curious and strategic mindset fueled by 40 years of experience in business across Europe, North America and APAC countries. With a fascination and deep understanding of what it is to be human, specifically applying principles from cultural sociology, social psychology, behavioural science, and cultural analysis, she brings breakthrough insights to brand strategy, creative development and customer centricity.

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