Post Election Lesson: Can You Really Change Someone’s Mind?

political-devisiveNow that the election is over, we can take a deep breathe and return to our nonpartisan lives. No more vitriolic Facebook posts or uncomfortable dinner party chatter. We have all united around the newly elected President, right? Please?

In one of the country’s more divisive political cycles, I made no secret of my views. The oversharing crazy train drove through and I jumped onboard with the rest of the wannabe pundits. I had my facts and stats and was ready for anyone who even casually mentioned the election.

As a result, these last two weeks have been spent mending relationships. I’m not apologizing for my convictions, mind you, but I didn’t have to come on so strong. Most seem to have forgiven me (and may even unmute my Facebook posts). For those who haven’t, I’d like to deflect accountability by citing a recent research study.

A new article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology examines our motivation for speaking out about our beliefs. There seem to be two battling mentalities: 1) people who believe others’ attitudes are fixed, and 2) people who believe others’ attitudes are changeable.

Those in the “attitudes are fixed” camp have a heightened sense of certainty in their own position, making them more likely to stand up for their views. However, it also deters them from trying to convince other people, since a fixed attitude lends itself to a sense that others’ thoughts and opinions cannot be swayed. These two contrasting effects explain why your Uncle will argue with you about politics even when you aren’t arguing back—he isn’t trying to convince/educate you (as you are unpersuadable); he just want to defend his position and possibly get it off his chest.

Those in the “attitudes are changeable” camp believe opposing opinions can evolve. They see disputes as an exchange of ideas, not a competition. As a result, these individuals tend to be less combative and avoid conversations with obstinate opponents who display no willingness or intent to alter their views.

As leaders, we spend a significant amount of time trying to persuade and influence others. Consider whether you lean towards a fixed or changeable mindset before engaging in your next debate, and take stock of your opponent’s predilection. You may need to take it down a notch so they are more receptive to your efforts to “educate” them on the proper way to view the world. Frame your purpose for the conversation at the onset so they understand your intent and leave openings so they have a chance to respond. If this doesn’t work, I still have a few Twitter zingers saved up from the third debate that will surely convince them of your supremacy.