Bunker mentality

I recall a presentation we did at a major Fortune 100 company, in which we presented some findings that ran counter to the views of one upper-level manager.

After the presentation, she approached us fuming, “Your conclusions about X are wrong.  There were things in the interviews that you are hiding from us. ”

So we asked the obvious question.  “What did people say in the interviews that we’re hiding from you?”

“I don’t know,” she blurted out, as her face reddened.  “But there’s something you’re hiding from us!”

A column from the New York Times explains why it is so hard to get people to accept disagreeing points of view, even when those contrarian viewpoints are strongly supported by factual evidence.  Not only are people often reluctant to change their minds, but oddly their erroneous beliefs often solidify when they are presented with falsifying evidence.

We certainly see this in presentations sometimes.  And we see it frequently in consumer behavior.  It is very hard, if not impossible, to successfully argue against a frame.

Of course, the author poses one possible solution – what he calls surprising validators.   “People are most likely to find a source credible if they closely identify with it or begin in essential agreement with it.”

This might explain why some of the most effective voices for peace have been former military leaders, like Ariel Sharon and Dwight Eisenhower.

Or…if you can simply identify with the speaker in some seemingly irrelevant way (“He’s bald just like I am!”) that can also make that person’s opinion more persuasive.

People are strange.