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‘They’ll Never Change Their Mind’- What To Do About the Amygdala, part 1

Last post, we saw that expecting to have a fruitful conversation with someone processing primarily through their amygdala is not likely. That person is just not in a frame of mind for such a discussion. They ‘see’ the world through a problem thinking lens, expecting there is a solution, when actually there isn’t one. Believing in ‘The World As I Want It To Be’ does give a sense of power and control in a world that threatens to wrest it away, but failing to balance this with ‘The World As It Is’ often results in decisions that may not be the best choices in the given circumstances. So how to get someone to take on a prefrontal cortex perspective, where options and a broader perspective can be entertained- to transition from problem thinking to dilemma thinking, from the solution that ‘fixes’ their problem to a perspective that better balances ‘me’ and ‘we?’

Awareness #1

Before we even talk about how to have such a conversation, there is a necessary awareness that has to be grasped. You cannot convince someone to change their mind; you just cannot, and believing you can just reflects your own reliance on problem thinking, the illusion that you can solve the problem of their thinking if only you say the ‘right’ things. And what makes you think that what matters to you is meaningful enough to be impactful enough for them? It might be. So by all means, share what you think; just don’t think you have failed, or be disappointed, angry, or think they are clueless when it doesn’t stick. To think it should just reflects your own problem thinking.

The measure of success is not to convince, but rather to broaden the view of what matters -by making sure there is a complete accounting of the circumstances and consideration for the full array of risks. In this way, you give the other person an opportunity to perhaps consider more than just the mix of factors currently comprising the matrix their Hidden Brain is using to craft its story. This deliberative, thoughtful accounting gives their Hidden Brain an opportunity to reweigh, rebalance, and rethink that story. It may lead to a change in thought, or it may not, but it is not up to you. Only that person’s brain can do this work and make this judgement.

Awareness #2

Dismissing the realities of ‘The World As It Is’; summoning one’s own ‘science’ from one’s own sources; ignoring, discrediting, or attacking sources that say otherwise; resorting to intimidation in order to defend the story; taking on the victim mindset when that story fails to deliver; latching onto the ‘inevitability’ of the story’s feared outcome- these all result from problem thinking, which reveals another critical awareness. There are always options, even if you can’t see them right now. The challenge is how to arrive at a shared outcome that unlocks those options- a vision/image of what success means and something each person finds worthwhile to work toward. This requires getting to the heart of what matters. This determines the makeup of the decision matrix that underpins the story one clings to.

And if there isn’t agreement on what matters- if two people each base their story on a different vision, a different desired outcome, a different set of concerns, a different set of circumstances, a different measure of success- what’s the chance their suggested solutions will line up? (spoiler alert- less than zero)

An Approach

So if you find yourself in a conversation that’s going nowhere, pause and think about this: are you talking tactics- what to do- without agreement on what is trying to be achieved, of what success looks like? If so, then you are stuck at a deadend that I call ‘dueling solutions.’ And because the brain defaults to problem thinking and its solution, chances are if you find yourself in a contentious conversation, you are talking at the tactics level- what to do- without agreement at the vision level- what we are trying to achieve.

Here’s the good news; drawing the conversation to where it needs to be takes but a single question. When you realize where you are, pause, tilt your head to one side and ask: So, what are we trying to achieve here? (spoiler alert: you will likely have to do this over and over. People are just not used to this and will drift back over and over to talk tactics. Learn to recognize this; practice the skill)

So in this conversation we’re talking about, what does success look like? What are you trying to achieve? Well, success is not that the person actually changes. Success is that you have given their Hidden Brain the opportunity to ‘re-think’ the story they cling to- that you have been able to influence the way they weigh all the aspects and factors. (And not a bad thing for you to do either).

It Takes Two

It takes two to have a conversation. There will be some people who readily engage with you- lots of head nods and statements of agreement. There are some who are polite, but not quite ready. These folks want to see what everyone else does and says and what happens. These spectators aren’t averse to what you say, or even changing what they think. They are just not ready to do the work. They don’t yet see that devoting energy to this might be a worthwhile enough investment in reaching success as they see it.

And there are those with whom it just seems impossible to have any conversation. If the person has a fixed worldview, stuck in problem thinking, your efforts will fall on deaf ears. But within this group there are actually some who are not the lost cause they appear to be. Such a dissenter is open to the conversation, but their decision matrix has reached a contrary judgement. They actually are applying dilemma thinking at the Hidden Brain level, but a different balance of concerns and a different vision of success has resulted in a different judgement about what to do.

And it is not necessarily obvious who is which. The only way to learn this is to engage, share your view, and see what happens. This is why you shouldn’t expect your view to stick, and why you must be open to the possibility that your view may well change in this exchange, unless you are also stuck in problem thinking.

Remember what you are trying to achieve. Early adopters are on board. Spectators will adopt when the time is right in their view. Naysayers will not engage. Dissenters are open to having a conversation. Find them and have the conversation. For when a common understanding and vision is reached with the dissenters, the spectators take note. They don’t want to be left behind, and if they see value here, that may well tip the balance for them.

So now that you know what you are trying to achieve, how do you actually go about having the conversation? More in part 2

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