Tag Archives: Uncertainty

Is Logic for Losers? Persuasion, Influence, and Biased Assimilation Effect

When engaging in a heated debate, how do you convince your opponent to abandon their stance and jump onboard yours? Most of us try to prove our point with a barrage of graphs, charts, statistics, and research studies. We cite last week’s 60 Minutes interview and regurgitate the numerous articles we’ve read. And then we wonder why we were unsuccessful in changing anyone’s minds. As a result, it would behoove us to consider whether logic-based arguments are effective.

There is plenty of research illustrating the ineffectiveness of logic as a persuasion tool. A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that when participants were presented with a counter-argument for the death penalty, not only did individuals not change their minds, rather they ended up with more extreme views than before the experiment began—those for the death penalty became more for it, those against it became more against it. Classic biased assimilation.

The idea of biased assimilation effect, where we tend to believe ideas that synchronize with what we already believe, is not new—research like the one previously mentioned has been replicated with everything from climate change to health. It turns out that biased assimilation effect is the very barrier we are trying to overcome when engaging in a debate.

Getting back to my original question about the effectiveness of logic-based arguments, there is plenty of research showing that utilizing emotion is more persuasive than logic. One study concluded that up to 90% of decisions are based on emotion. But what if this is not accurate? What if biased assimilation effect supersedes both emotion and logic?

In a classic study by Randall Reuchelle, students prepared speeches written from either a logical or an emotional standpoint. While we may argue about the use of emotion over logic, Reuchelle found that speeches displaying a message the evaluator agreed with were rated as more logical even if they were intended to be emotional, and those the evaluator did not agree with were considered to be more emotional even if they were intended to be logical. This means we can’t even distinguish between facts and opinions; biased assimilation effect is too powerful.

As leaders, we must be equipped to overcome biased assimilation effect. While there is a strong case for utilizing emotion over logic, you have a more powerful case when you use them together. Start by employing a healthy dose of storytelling and personal anecdotes. This will inject the emotions necessary to connect with the audience, lower defenses, and allow for a more open-minded conversation.

Once you’ve created a mutual understanding, sprinkle in the relevant facts. This use of logic creates a necessary foundation for emotion. It justifies actions and provides the evidence others can rely upon.

We are in a constant battle against biased assimilation effect. It shuts down the open flow of ideas and precludes us from reaching consensus. Instead of conceding with the weak acceptance that we can “agree to disagree,” develop your ability to articulate logical points that reverberate with your audience. Then use your emotional radar to trigger emotions that embody your case. It is not easy, but changing someone’s mind never is.

How Much Can You (Mentally) Bench? Six Ways to Build Your Mental Toughness with Ron Howard

When discussing the characteristics of successful leaders, one trait is often overlooked. It’s not the need for charisma, confidence, or communication skills, we talking about those incessantly. No, it is the need for mental toughness. Famed filmmaker and actor Ron Howard discussed this undervalued attribute during a recent conversation on the podcast Off Camera with Sam Jones:

I was talking to a friend of mine who’s a Wall Street guy, and he’s always been a bond trader. He said that when he recruits young talent, they have to understand math, but he loves to get men and women who are athletes, highly competitive athletes. And I said, ‘Oh, it’s because you are trying to win, right? It’s kind of a zero sum thing.’ He said, ‘No, they know how to lose. They know how to lose and get back up and go, and go hard. No one reaches that caliber of athletic achievement without losing a helluva lot more than they win. And they learn how to cope with that.’ And I think if we’re doing this type of work and you want to make it your life’s work, you have to have that mental toughness or at least that understanding.

Mental toughness is the ability to respond resiliently to pressures, setbacks, adversities and challenges. It involves remaining emotionally steady and focused while continuing to make rational decisions under pressure. Like Ron Howard’s friend, mental toughness is often associated with athletes. After all, they spend a significant amount time in high-pressure, highly competitive situations, with arenas of onlookers and the objective to achieve a specific goal within a compressed period of time.

This unique atmosphere compels athletes to learn how to conquer fears and evade despondence in their quest for victory. For instance, a recent study examining professional baseball players found that players with greater mental toughness performed better in on-base plus slugging, a key performance metric that reflects a player’s ability to get on base and advance base runners (and is considered among the most predictive metrics of team wins). They also performed better under stress, kept their emotions in check, and were able to bounce back quicker when things did not go well.

Obviously, star athletes must have some innate, natural ability—coordination, physical flexibility, anatomical capacities—just as successful senior executives need to be able to think strategically and relate to people. But the real key to excellence in both sports and business is not the ability to swim fast or do quantitative analyses quickly in your head. Rather, it is [mindset] mental toughness.—Grant Jones, Sports Psychologist and former consultant to Olympic and world champions in seven games

This is not just applicable to the sports world. In her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, psychologist Angela Duckworth’s research shows that this skill set is more reliable than cognitive or technical skills when predicting success. If this sounds like an overstatement, consider the results of her study. Focusing on new cadets at West Point military academy, Duckworth examined the student’ high school rank, SAT scores, Leadership Potential Score, Physical Aptitude Exam, and Grit Scale (which measures perseverance and passion for long–term goals). What she found was that while intelligence, strength, and leadership potential were beneficial, those scoring highest on the Grit Scale were 60% more likely to successfully finish the initiation program than their peers.

These results were replicated in a number of other studies:

In the Journal of Managerial Psychology, researchers concluded, “mental toughness can be a significant indicator of potential for level of achievement and managerial position attained.”

A study in the Journal of Management found that leaders exhibiting mental toughness are more successful in obtaining their followers’ trust, respect, and buy-in. They are also more likely to be perceived as influential, while less resilient leaders who appear ambivalent or emotionally-unfulfilled are less likely to be seen as persuasive.

In a nationwide survey conducted by Price Pritchett where CEOs were asked to name the most important traits of their company, the top answers were staying power, can-do attitude, and resilience, all characteristics associated with mental toughness.

And good news! Research has found that mental toughness can be developed. Professional athletes regularly engage in training their psychological readiness. Jason Selk, author of Executive Toughness and director of mental training for the St. Louis Cardinals, coordinates daily “mental workouts” with players, including such practices as controlled breathing, visualizing a personal “highlight reel,” and imagining successes that are going to happen in the next game. You can also consider:

Practice self-control. To be mentally tough, we need to be able to manage our thinking and emotions. This means not allowing the business environment or the opinion of others to control our decision making. To do so, when experiencing pressure, immediately stop, take a few deep breaths, and assess the situation.

Be inner-driven. Mentally strong people harness their internal motivation so they can decide how/why to push themselves. They do not allow negative outside forces to hijack their thoughts and emotions.

Practice flexibility. Do you know why the Caribbean has so many palm trees? Because they bend in a hurricane. Just like the palm tree, success in our dynamic work environment depends on our readiness to adjust quickly. To remain mentally elastic, approach new situations with a creative mind, be aggressively curious, and be open to alternatives.

Seek challenges. You cannot become mentally tougher if you are not inserting yourself into situations that test your intellect, skill set, or ego.

Don’t be an expert. One trap of ambitious professionals is believing they’ve reached “expert status.” Experts fall into a routine; they see things a certain way and stop considering alternatives. Retain your probing, creative mindset and don’t let experience blind you from new possibilities.

Embrace uncertainty. Mental toughness is not synonymous with being all-knowing. But it does mean that we cannot allow ambiguity to cloud our judgment or spur panic. Think through the options and act on them. Avoid knee-jerk responses and keep your sights on the end-goal.

While we may not be able to compete with professional athlete on muscle strength, we are capable of being contenders in mental strength. Don’t let adversity thwart your confidence. Practice resilience so when the next challenge transpires, you can flex those skills and tough it out.

More Leadership Lessons from The Walking Dead

walkingdeadposterAnother mid-season finale of AMC’s The Walking Dead and, as usual, we are left with more questions than ever. Can Glenn save Maggie? Will Rick and his band of gut-soaked companions make it through the sea of undead? And someone get that kid to stop calling for his mother?

This zombie apocalyptic soap opera has united people around ideas and themes that are commonplace in the workplace. Maybe not the flesh-eating practices, but is the show compelling because of the monsters or because we can relate to the aspects of the story centered around leadership and teams? Let’s once again delve into The Walking Dead and find out.

Before you read, please note that I will be discussing details up to and including the Season 6 mid-season episode. If you aren’t caught up, I encourage you to get with it. Great TV isn’t going to watch itself.

Do You Carry Yourself Like a Leader?

walkingdeadrickSince the beginning of The Walking Dead, Rick has struggled to determine what type of leader he’d like to be. He’s tried consensus, a Governor-like authoritative stance, and even laissez-faire when he “retired” from leadership at the prison to be a farmer. Through it all, he does not express a lack of confidence.

Rick knows the public face of leadership, right? He’s seen what happens when he expresses his doubts to a broad audience. It doesn’t engender smart intelligent debate, it just sparks dissent. So sometimes the best face to put forward is one of absolute confidence. And he’s living that lesson and living that publicly because when he doesn’t, it just creates tension and problems.—David Alpert, producer on The Walking Dead

As a study from the Center for Talent Innovation found, the ability to project gravitas—confidence, poise under pressure and decisiveness—is a core characteristic to being perceived as the leader. Combined with speaking skills and assertiveness, Rick and all of us can maintain an executive presence in even the most hostile of circumstances.

Are You Rebellious Enough?

walkingdeadroncarlRon is a problem. He wants revenge for his father being killed, for his girlfriend being taken away, and for being born an insecure punk. He’s in immediate danger with the house under siege by walkers and all Ron can think about is killing Carl. Does this rebelliousness make him a liability or is it an indicator of future success?

In a recent study, researchers found that rule-breaking was the best predictor of which students ended up earning higher incomes. These individuals were more willing to stand up for themselves and were more demanding during negotiations. The caveat, however, is that a rebellious individual must be able to back up their insubordinance with expertise and skills…factors in which Ron is sorely lacking.

Have You Picked a Successor?

walkingdeaddeannaRick may be the core of the show, but Deanna has been the model leader. A former senator and the governess of Alexandria, Deanna exhibited composure and a level-headed approach that earned the respect of those living in her safe haven. Unfortunately for Deanna, there’s no coming back from a zombie bite. Fortunately for us, she departed with a solid succession plan.

Unlike more than half of companies today that, according to new research, cannot name a successor to their CEO and 40% who have “zero viable internal candidates,” Deanna has been molding two people to take the reigns.

What I wrote to Maggie is that this is her chance to step up to the plate, to become me as much as she can in terms of her belief of due process of law… She’s the one who has the balanced path and the balanced abilities to become the leader of state, and not to forget that. So between her and Michonne I have a Plan A and a Plan B.—Tovah Feldshuh (Deanna)

To prepare her successors, Deanna first chose people which whom she saw attributes and abilities that complimented and exceeded her own. She then engrained her principles for a functional zombie-infiltrated civilization. Finally, Deanna gave her detailed plans to Michonne and explained how she envisioned the future. Each step was selfless and showed her trust in those she deemed as future leaders.

As The Walking Dead has shown time and again, we are not all going to make it. This is not pessimistic; it is reality. If you want to fight, you’ll have a better chance to survive. If you are ethical, you’ll avoid turning into the enemy. And if you can adapt, you’ll have the flexibility to change course when needed. Throw in a little luck (a la Glenn and the dumpster), and you’re on your way towards higher ground.

Five Lessons from Stephen Colbert’s Commencement Address

stephen colbert commencementI love a good commencement address. The message of limitless possibilities mixed with sage advice and a tinge of inspiration break through even my cynical disposition. Add to this Stephen Colbert, and you know you’re going to walk away with a meaningful experience.

Last week, the soon-to-be Late Show host spoke to the 2015 graduating class of North Carolina’s Wake Forest University. Dr. Stephen Colbert (he was bestowed with an honorary doctorate, so the “Dr.” is legit), spoke about change and the unknown. Without reprinting his entire speech, which you can watch here, the following are a few of the highlights.

LESSON 1: Embrace Uncertainty

Too often we feel a heavy burden of expectation, the expectation to know our future.

It is my responsibility as a commencement speaker to prepare you for what awaits you in the future. Here is it – ‘No one has any idea what’s going to happen.’ Not even Elon Musk. That’s why he’s building all those rockets. He wants a Plan B on another world… This uncertainty is not new to your generation. The future is always uncertain.

While there is nothing wrong with planning, you can spend your whole life trying to be one step ahead. Relieve some of your self-induced pressure by taking comfort in knowing that nobody knows what is going to happen.

LESSON 2: Don’t Let Past Experiences Limit Your Potential

When we become content, stagnation is a looming threat.

I just spent many years learning to do one thing really well. I got so comfortable with that place, that role, those responsibilities, that it came to define how I saw myself. But now that part of my life is over. It’s time to say goodbye to the person we’ve become, that we’ve worked so hard to perfect, and to make some crucial decisions in becoming who we’re going to be.

Good leaders master their workplace and relax. Great leaders don’t ever relax. Without further developing your skills, even the most cush role is a temporary stop in your path towards success.stephen colbert and david letterman

LESSON 3: Set Your Own Standards

Social media, our peers, and society as a whole often define our vision of success. This is a mistake.

It may seem counterintuitive now, but once you leave here, you may miss being graded on all your work. Because once you’re out of school, there are no objective criteria for achievement anymore. People my age will sometimes say to you, ‘Hey, that work you did, that thing you said, that cause you championed – it’s not good.’ Having your own standards will help you weather moments like that.

Your friends may have some helpful ideas, but you need to create your own benchmarks for success. It’s the only way to live an authentic, fulfilling life.

LESSON 4: Give Yourself a Break

My fellow high achievers understand the need to be constantly striving towards a challenging goal. And on those rare occasions when we fall short, we blame ourselves.

Of course any standards worth having will be a challenge to meet and most of the time you will fall short. But what’s nice about having your own set of standards is that from now on, you fill out your own report card. Do yourself a favor, be an easy grader. Grade yourself on a curve. Give yourself extra credit. You have the power. You are your own professor now.

Keep setting and working towards your goals, but if you can, stop beating yourself up when it doesn’t go as planned. Learn from it and move on.

LESSON 5: Be a Change Agent

Finally, don’t just accept the mediocrity around you. Choose to make a difference.

I hope you find the courage to decide for yourself what is right and what is wrong, and then please, expect as much of the world around you. Try to make the world good according to your standards.