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‘They’ll Never Change Their Mind’- What To Do About the Amygdala, Part 2

So you are frustrated because it seems impossible to have any kind of conversation with someone who does not seem to share your views. The key, as we now know, is to learn who it is worth having the conversation with. And once identified, the measure of success is to make sure their Hidden Brain has an opportunity to re-draft its story. By focusing on a full accounting of the circumstances and the full array of risks and opportunities, hopefully a shared outcome can be reached, a connection that unlocks options, which may not have been obvious beforehand - not an easy task with someone whose amygdala is fired up. A tall order, but there is a way to proceed.

Step 0- Credibility and Trustworthiness- There is a critical awareness that comes before you can have such a conversation to figure out who to have a conversation with. If they don’t see you as a credible source or someone who is trustworthy, then nothing you say will be heard, no matter how true or correct or valuable. Without these two, there is no chance a person would even acknowledge that their worldview might have some flaws that might be worthwhile to reconsider. And you do not determine how credible and trustworthy you are; the other person does.

-Take the opportunities that emerge to demonstrate that you always bring credible information to any conversation- pertinent data, believable, verifiable, gathered in an acceptable way- AND you always act to gain trust- don’t overpromise, don’t offer something you do not have the ability to do, and then deliver it.

-Be aware of the 5:1 rule- for every interaction that degrades trust, it takes five others to regain what was lost. Every time you have such a trust eroding interaction, you start over. Guard your credibility and trustworthiness dearly.

-Look out for the indicators that you are not seen as the credible and trustworthy person you think you are. If others look away when you walk into the room and spend their time talking in an attempt to end the conversation, you have more work to do. If, on the other hand, they linger, search you out, or tip their head to the side when you talk, you may be on to something.

Remember, challenging a person’s worldview (and be clear this is what you are doing), will be perceived as a threat. Unless the person feels you have their back and it is safe to proceed, the result is a stimulated amygdala, not exactly what you are after. So if your conversation seems to fall on deaf ears, it may not be just them. It may be you too.

So let’s assume you are seen as sufficiently credible and trustworthy. (By the way, if not, these next steps do wonders to establish credibility and add to your trust account.)

Step 1- Be curious. Learn their measure of success. Find out what about the issue is not working well and what does not work for them. Learn what it is they fear is going to happen. Ask how they would like it to be. Remember, your goal is not to convince them of what matters to you, but rather to learn what matters to them, so you know exactly where your efforts might have the most impact.

While you are at it, this also provides an opportunity to reflect on what you are doing and thinking. Maybe they bring up something you haven’t considered or your Hidden Brain hasn’t weighed evenly in its decision matrix. It’s a great time to reflect on whether you have been a credible source of information and whether you have acted in a trustworthy manner.

Step 2- Point out the discrepancies and invite their involvement. This is not the time for value judgements, editorial comments, passionate appeals, challenging their perspectives, or calling them out. Remember you are trying to learn. ’Hey, thanks for sharing. I hear what you are saying, but here’s what I see……. do you see that?’ or ‘Help me out here. I’m confused. I know we are concerned about (this), but what about (that)?’ Your mindset should be: ’just the facts ma’am‘

Step 3- What do you both actually agree upon? If there is nothing, one or both of you are likely anchored in their amygdala. It’s time to politely end the conversation and move on. On the other hand, you may be surprised to learn there actually are some things you do agree on, indicating you have made a connection with a dissenter.

‘It seems we agree on……. But I’m not sure about ………. Here’s what it seems we actually know and here’s how we know it:…………

It’s a chance to reflect on credibility. When the source quoted is: ‘I heard that…….’ or ‘I read where….’, the door is open to substantiate the information sources being used. It’s a chance for Hidden Brains to reweigh factors, rebalance concerns, acknowledge a full accounting of the details and the full array of risks. It’s an opportunity to reflect on the actually measure of success. It’s the way to take each person’s desired outcome and merge them together for a shared outcome, which as you recall, is the purpose of your conversation- shared vision and a shared outcome first before trying to figure out what to do about it.

Step 4- What are the options? Often, however, there will be remaining disagreement. Options do not just refer to what to do, but at this point to options around a shared outcome. Remember vision before tactics; if you aren’t together on vision, resist going to tactics. The focus can then turn to learning: how might we resolve these discrepancies? what will it take to better understand these differences?’ where are the gaps in the measure of success? What do we yet need to learn? How do we go about learning this? And it is ok to agree to disagree.

Only once there is a common thread is it time to talk tactics- what to do in order to work toward the vision. What options get us there? When there is disagreement, you can always fall back to vision and shared outcome to reign in the conversation when it veers off track: ‘So what are we trying to achieve?’

And here’s a most useful question: Is it possible……? Is it possible I am wrong? Is it possible that information is not correct? Is it possible where that information came from is not reliable? Is it possible there are other valid sources of information being overlooked? Is it possible that viewpoint doesn’t help us reach a shared outcome? Is it possible there are other outcomes, not just the ‘inevitable’ outcome you fear?

This is the conversation a dissenter will have with you. Dissenters are the key to change. Find them and spending your time talking with dissenters; this is the best use of your time and energy. Minds may not be instantly changed, but seeds will be planted that have a chance to sprout and blossom - a conversation in favorable conditions, planted in the fertile soil of credibility and trustworthiness, fertilized by curiosity, watered with open sharing, and patience to see what sprouts.

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