Practice Persuasion Techniques to Get Your Sustainability Effort Launched

The SSC Team May 24, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Hearing “no” can be demoralizing, especially when you’ve worked hard to build a program that may not only bolster the organization, but, in the case of sustainability, can often also result in meaningful progress on reducing environmental and social impact.

So, when you get a firm negative, how can you persuade the decision makers to change their minds? Disrupt their foundation of belief.

Psychologists have determined that our “strongly held beliefs form a network of consistent concepts.”

If mind-changing were simple, one could present a single strong argument against a belief to disrupt the consistency of the network of concepts, but it’s obviously not that simple.

Individuals are able to hold inconsistent beliefs simultaneously, as well as disregard strong challenges to their beliefs simply by drawing on the network of concepts that has been built over time.

To truly change minds, one needs to attack the problem in multiple ways, simultaneously.

Develop counterarguments to their strongest positions

For example, if a decision-maker can’t see the value of investing resources in your sustainability effort, work to develop strong counterarguments to disrupt the foundation of their “no-ROI for sustainability” belief.   

Increase exposure to supporting evidence for the new belief

Your counterarguments should be consistent and frequent, such as case-studies of companies that implemented projects similar to the one you are proposing. Showcasing the positive results will continue to undermine the belief that your program “isn’t worth it” or “won’t work.”

Provide information from multiple sources

Deliver multiple bits of counter-evidence from a variety of sources that are both recognized as authoritative and respected by the decision-maker. Knowing that the decision-maker built his or her belief system through evidence, try and break down the belief further by presenting evidence from the same sources that he or she builds other belief systems from. Having evidence from a respected, trusted source helps further destabilize the belief.  

Address the emotional attachment

With strong counterarguments and solid evidence from trusted sources, the belief should be in a state of incoherence. But be cautious. It’s possible that the feeling of “being pushed in a corner” or a sense of being manipulated will cause a rebound from the boss where her or she doubles down on the original decision based on the discomfort of having a belief network shaken. Tread firmly, but don’t make it personal and don’t push too hard, too fast.

“What's key, at any rate, is to recognize that people's active resistance to efforts to change their mind doesn't mean that those efforts aren't working. Belief change is a war of attrition, not a search for the knock-down argument that gets someone to see things differently in one fell swoop,” said Art Markman, professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas, Austin.

Have you heard “yes,” but can’t get the team to act? Are you struggling to be assertive in your role as a manager? We’re always looking for ways to apply smart management principles to the sustainability field. Do you have a recent article that caught your eye? Let us know in the comments.


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