Tired of preaching to the choir or confronting your most vocal opponents and seeing no real change or impact from your efforts?
Maybe you are talking to the wrong people.
The longer you hang out online, the more you realize that society seems to be getting more polarized on just about every issue. Politicians are getting compared to Hitler or Stalin. Vague statements, with little basis in fact, are made to back up an argument. People react to posts that are not even true because, you know, it fits my beliefs.
And the polarized sides are getting more vocal.
Part of this is the way social media sites are designed. For instance, the more interest you show in a topic or viewpoint, the more Facebook will show you related articles. You might not even be aware it is happening.
You start believing that lots of people believe what you believe. And it encourages you to be vocal as well.
Or you start to believe the way to convert people to your viewpoint is to bash your opponents directly. Or to craft a brilliant argument to convince people to switch viewpoints because you are right, and they are wrong.
Here is the thing.
It doesn’t work.
How Attached Are You?
In “The Five Levels of Attachment: Toltec Wisdom for the Modern World”, don Miguel Ruiz Jr. talks about the levels of attachment people have to their beliefs and viewpoints ranging from none to fanatical. At the highest level, people would willingly die to defend their beliefs.
Your personal experience probably tells you that shifting someone with deeply held beliefs is very difficult or downright impossible. It might not even be possible to have a conversation that doesn’t end in an argument.
Whether you are promoting a cause, launching a new product or service or trying to shift the culture of an organization, how do you convince a large group of people to actually shift towards the change?
Who Are You Talking To?
The first thing you have to realize is that there is an entire spectrum of people in a large group. To simplify things, we will break it into three groups.
The People Who Already Strongly Believe
If you are writing or speaking to the people who are already your fans or who already support your viewpoint, you will get a lot of agreement and support but you probably won’t shift many minds.
This vocal group tends to be about 10-20 percent of people (i.e. the 80/20 rule applies). The really strong believers tend to be about four percent of a large group (20 percent of the 20 percent.)
The People Who Strongly Believe Otherwise
If you are writing or speaking to the people who believe your vision is dead wrong, you probably won’t convince anyone to switch. However, your fans will jump on it. The resulting friction can be either scary or addicting.
This group follows the 10-20 percent and four percent breakdowns as well.
If you could convince an influential opponent to switch, that could be powerful. But again, that is akin to winning a lottery, and they might just get denounced by their former group.
People in the middle make up the group that goes from pretty sure I am against it to pretty sure I am for it. They are not fanatically attached to the idea so CAN be moved.
This group makes up about 60-80 percent of the target group. They also tend to be both less vocal and ignore more fanatical viewpoints.
The middle is not one unified mass of people either.
Just like in “Crossing the Chasm” by Geoffrey A. Moore, there are those who are the early majority and the late majority; those who prefer the status quo and will resist change.
If we think of the entire distribution of viewpoints resembling the bell curve distribution in this book we gain an insight.
The middle is really big.
If we can move the middle, we can shift the entire curve in the direction of our cause.
Moving the Middle
Stop Yelling At The Extremes
It is very tempting to shout at the opposition and rip their arguments to shreds either using logic or if that fails, politely appealing to their Neanderthal ancestry or worthiness as humans. Ring any bells?
Talking to the believers and getting them riled up or getting their ongoing support may be desirable and necessary at times but, they already are on your side, so the lasting shifts are small. You are teaching them to yell at the opposition or at best talk to other believers.
Talking to the middle is not the same as talking to the extremes. You need to accept and relate to the fact that they don’t care as much as you do (right now), and they may even be leaning towards the opposing view.
So stop telling and start showing.
Since the middle does not respond well to fanatics you want to think about the little things they can do that will help right now? What small changes can you make in perception, attitude or acceptance of an alternative view?
You are entitled to your beliefs. So is everyone else.
Generalizations rarely help.
Most people have a whole spectrum of beliefs. Stop seeing other people as binary thinkers; they are neither black nor white on most topics.
Assume they are coming from a place of underlying good (unless you know for sure they aren’t) and come from a place of acknowledging that. Your methods may differ but a lot of times, the desired outcome is often the same.
Relate to Their Beliefs
If you can show people how their beliefs and your beliefs overlap, partially or fully, you can create an opportunity for real connection and communication.
Show How Others Went First
What are some (non-extreme) examples of what people did that worked and supported your cause. Stories and examples give people something concrete relate to and shift their thinking to “I could do that too.”
Take a Strategic View
Moving the beliefs or views of a large group of people can happen overnight if the issue is big enough or relates to strong crowd behavior. Unfortunately, fear and “fear that generates hate” are often the instant motivators. Most times using fear backfires, creates more damage than good, or only lasts until there is another distraction.
When we take a strategic view, we can apply what Gary Vaynerchuk says in his YouTube video “One Is Greater Than Zero.)
One person at a time. One small group at a time. Go deep rather than wide. Do the hard work rather than hoping for a miracle.
One small idea. One small shift.
Then show your believers how to shift the middle. This allows you to multiply the one on one changes.
Eventually, you reach a tipping point, and it starts to spread on its own. The early majority starts to move and then the late majority (the people who prefer the status quo) follow.
This kind of change is happening all around us.
Even some of the people at the extremes get pulled along with the majority over time because the new normal changes the base acceptable standards.
Let’s face it. You probably won’t move everyone, but you probably don’t need to either.
What Can You Do Now?
If you are launching a new product or service that will change the world, these can be powerful tools to start the shift you need to have your company take off.
If you are part of an organization that is trying to do some good in the world, you need to get your fans going and then start shifting the early majority. Trying to go too wide too soon may spread your efforts too thin to have an impact.
If you are trying to dramatically shift the culture of an organization, you need to take a strategic, longer-term approach unless you are prepared to replace a lot of people in short order.
And if you are just trying to impact one person, right now, don’t try to change them. Show them how they will get what they want, or what small thing they could do, by talking to them where they are now.
Shift minds rather than changing them.
Until you reach the tipping point, and what was the change becomes the new normal.
How are you going to shift minds?
This post originally appeared in The Good Men Project.