Saturday, April 16, 2011

Commitment, Consistency, Confidence, and Conviction

Commitment is a very powerful and misunderstood persuasive element. We are more likely to be persuaded by someone that is committed and consistent in their message than someone that isn’t. Many of us are taught to “sound confident and sure” and to be suspicious of people that “flip-flop” or “waffle” in their opinions. It’s almost as if being committed and confident are the same as being correct.

Well, they aren’t. They are just persuasive. You can be confident, committed, consistent, and WRONG quite easily. The problem with being in that position is that many of us find it impossible to “back up”, admit we are wrong, and get back on track.

Because of this, we have to be careful in our conversations about how we ask questions about others positions and how we express our own opinions about things. Since the lessons about commitment are so powerful, we must be careful not to commit before we are ready. We must also know under what circumstances we can reverse a commitment and how to do it. Finally, we must be able to help others feel comfortable in reversing a position to which they have publicly committed.

Let’s recognize that sometimes we will behave as if we are sure when we aren’t. Later, when the weaknesses in our position are exposed, we spend a great deal of time trying to save face. Why? Because we were so committed in the first place. Had we been a bit more tentative, we may be better off.

It is a shortcut to persuade a group by saying something like “The conclusion is inescapable – we must pursue this as I have recommended” when a better expression of reality may be “to the best of my knowledge, I think I am on the right track here. I welcome any additional input on the subject”. The short cut helps us move to a conclusion faster, and if it is the wrong conclusion there is little benefit in doing that. I am not saying we should be meek in expressing our convictions, but rather that we should leave enough uncertainty in them to allow others to feel comfortable in contributing other viewpoints. Please search this blog for “THE SCORE” for more about this.

So we commit to things we feel certain about and not to those for which we still need data. Next, how do we help others to keep from committing to things for which they aren’t truly certain? First, before they start to speak publicly about their certainty, we ask them questions about what they are basing their opinions on. It is usually unnecessary to tell them that they are wrong and best if we could point out that there are other views on the subject and, even though we may have strong suspicions about the best view, we should remain open to other opinions so we don’t have to “untangle” ourselves from any rushed judgments. In other words, we help others see that there is still data on the subject that they haven’t considered and rather than rush to a conclusion, we can continue on recognizing that there is a likely outcome, but that it is not certain. Please search this blog for “THE SCORE” for more about this.

When we have committed to position and find that we need to reverse field, we need to understand that it is a good thing; the information we had put us on one path that seemed correct at the time. Now, we have better or more complete information and are on a better path. In many circles, this is called “learning” and it is seldom looked down upon.

That is also how you can help another person change their current committed opinion. You can explain to them that, based on the data they had when the opinion was formed, they had made the best possible call. Now that new information is available (and you tell them what it is and how it effects the decision), it is clear that changing their opinion is appropriate and reasonable. Note that the “new” information doesn’t need to be “new”; it may have been known when the opinion was formed. The thing that is new about it might be that now we understand the weight or significance of it, or that we now know that some of the beliefs underlying the opinion were believed to be true at the time, but now are known to be untrue (“flat earth”).
More Next Time

Insist on great business results! Go to Pathfinder Communication

No comments: