Why Are People So Hard Headed?
As a psychologist, I often have the pleasure of sharing my information on success with leaders. And, if there is one thing almost all leaders value, it is the ability to influence others, or get one’s point across in a way that results in both understanding and action. Unfortunately, many leaders report being frustrated by the fact that people are so “hard-headed,” meaning that seemingly no matter what the leader says, nothing seems to change.
In her new book, “Story or Die,” Lisa Cron does a nice job of shedding light on why this is the case, and what those of us who want to be more influential can do about it. She looks at how our interactions with others can either resonate with or challenge a person’s beliefs, or world view, and that this is what will eventually determine how influential we are.
Of course, this focus on beliefs isn’t something new. Back in 1955, Albert Ellis talks about the power of beliefs, and breaks it down into an ABC model. “A” is the adverse event and “C” is the consequence or how we react. He says that most people believe that “A” causes “C” (“Difficult people make me mad, traffic drives me crazy,” etc.). Unfortunately, this perspective gives way too much power to external forces over which we have little to no control, and results in our feeling more stressed or anxious. To address this problem, Dr. Ellis posits that “A” isn’t causing “C,” but instead, “A” is filtered through “B,” and “B” causes “C” and “B,” are our beliefs. This is easy to see when we think of how different people react to the same situation.
Ms. Cron goes deeper, however, and ties the power of beliefs to both evolution and neuroscience. She speaks to how early in our evolution we learned how to survive (fight off predators, etc.) by forming tribes or banding together with other humans. This was so essential to our survival that our tribal identity became our personal identity, and all of this was based upon shared beliefs. Therefore, today when someone challenges our beliefs, they are challenging us, and our tribe and our brain reacts to this as a challenge to our survival!
For those of you who follow my “Life from the Top of the Mind” philosophy, you know that this all has to do with how the brain processes information. The limbic system, or middle brain, has always been responsible for keeping us alive, and, therefore, receives information first. Depending on how this middle brain interprets the information, it is either routed down to the brainstem, or lower brain (where we react with stress, anger, anxiety, etc.) or up to the neocortex, what I call the Top of the Mind, where we have access to our most purposeful decision-making processes.
Therefore, when we are attempting to convince or influence others, and we do this in a way that flies in the face of what they believe, their brain interprets this as a threat and immediately begins to create a counter-narrative. In other words, when what we are saying is incongruent with how they see the world, what they care about, and how they see themselves, not only do they not hear our perspective as valuable, we unwittingly become part of a process that motivates them to create a set of alternative facts that support both them and their tribe (those who share their beliefs). This is easy to see when we think of discussions around politics. In fact, to some, their “political tribe” has become more powerful than their familial tribe, which has resulted in families being torn apart.
So, what can we do? Or put another way, if we want to be influential with others, how can we avoid the trap of motivating them to reject what we are wanting them to know?
I suggest we stop doing two things and start a third.
• First, we stop trying to convince others of the righteousness of our perspective with mere facts.
• Second, we stop being triggered by their resistance, because this will throw us into the lower brain and limit our options, and block access to the skills and information that we need to succeed.
• And third, that we start ensuring that we are coming from the most purposeful part of who we are (the Top of the Mind) and that we are framing our perspective in terms of what is important to them.
This is what I teach in my seminars and books… how we can stay centered and focused in the face of another’s resistance, and partner with what they believe to create more solution-focused conversations. If this is what you want for you and those in your organizations, I suggest that you contact me, because until we are able to bypass this evolutionary tendency of others to reject new information, we will only be convincing them to disregard what we are saying as irrelevant at best and threatening at worse.
~ All the best, Dr. Bill