March 8, 2017 Leave a comment
Changing a belief is rarely an easy thing to do (if at all possible). On one hand beliefs can be as socially harmless as food preferences and on the other hand beliefs can be as socially controversial as religion and politics. At work, beliefs can hold you back professionally and hold back the future success of the organization you work for… if your beliefs cause you to resist change.
People resist change because beliefs help define our social network; and frame how we behave; they establish boundaries. Beliefs are the foundation for what we believe about ourselves and the world around us… they may also represent what we WANT to believe about ourselves and the world around us. They begin developing when we are born and we never stop building new ones or reinforcing the ones we already have.
Don’t expect all beliefs to be rational. We – as a species our natural pattern builders. That is often how we learn and often how we build beliefs… including irrational or untrue beliefs. For example: Say you tried spinach as a young child and didn’t like it. Justifiably, from that moment on you would believe you didn’t like spinach. And then, you were introduced to kale and lettuce. It is likely you would believe – without even tasting kale or lettuce – that you also do not like those vegetables. That ‘pattern building’ is called Cognitive dissonance (see below).
Pressure to change beliefs and embrace new ideas can catapult us into a scary, undesirable departure from the security we know and depend on. Also, beliefs are built one on top another; one belief may be a cornerstone of many… so changing beliefs is often like a house of cards – one impacting many others. To change (or evolve), one belief, many beliefs may be ‘adjusted’.
Understand Beliefs / Change Beliefs / Evolve Beliefs
Changing a friends’ or co-workers’ beliefs can take seconds… or years. Blind spots, prejudice, and ingrained biases are among the hardest things to overcome. In general, when trying to change beliefs show emotion but don’t be emotional. To do this, listen with empathy and understanding not judgment or attitude. NOTE: This doesn’t mean you have to agree.
Before you begin to influence others, take a look at yourself. How do your beliefs control your opinions and actions? Are you open to new ideas? Where did some of your most prominent beliefs come from… you know – the ones like food preferences, politic and religion? Did you inherit any of them from your family?
Already – by reading this post you are far ahead of the next guy when it comes to understanding and changing beliefs (yours and theirs). Most of us are not aware our thoughts, feelings and actions are largely controlled by beliefs we’ve never explored or questioned. So, be mindful that it’s natural for people to put up a wall / get defensive when they feel judged, fear of being wrong, looking stupid or losing their social network / standing. Your friends or co-workers may be putting up a wall because they feel vulnerable and attacked.
Much of our ability to rationalize unsubstantiated, hurtful and even harmful beliefs is explained by Cognitive dissonance and Confirmation bias… neither I will explain here – but I do recommend you look into further.
- Cognitive dissonance: When your mind tries to hold two conflicting ideas at the same time – like doctors who smoke and justify their habit because they believe it helps them not gain weight… another health risk they may be justifying as more risky.
- Confirmation bias: Seeking confirmation of our beliefs using any possible evidence… even far-fetched evidence… thereby minimizing the importance of conflicting, highly relevant evidence.
Until we become self-aware and willing to explore ‘old’ biases and a ‘new’ ideas, our beliefs will – at some point – block our future potential. The wonderful thing is that once people voluntarily change / evolve beliefs, the new behavior is usually permanent and fully supported by the individual.
Remove The Threatening Voice
I find it really helpful to find a common goal and to acknowledge that while we my have different beliefs, we agree to have a respectful discussion. I like the idea of each of us self-identifying how / where / when our beliefs create possibilities for us… and also limitations. Create a safe place… socially and emotionally. Explore your and their beliefs by looking at:
- Why they were formed
- How are your beliefs helping you
- How your beliefs are hurting / restricting your / our possibilities now
- Could there be new evidence that supports or disproves your beliefs
Give people encouragement and space. Perhaps though listening and non-threatening discussion, the person will likely come to their own conclusion that their beliefs are holding them back and it’s time to change beliefs / evolve beliefs. You may be surprised of the power of deep – non-judgmental listening.
At some point you may feel you can ask them if they want to change their belief and the impact it has on their life and the people around them. At this stage you may need to explore what is (has been), holding them back from changing (Cognitive dissonance / Confirmation bias). But be careful, if you make someone feel wrong or feel threatened, their defenses will likely turn on strong… and once defenses are up it will be near impossible to gain their trust.
When you help them understand why some of their beliefs exist and the impact they have on their actions / thoughts… you can begin to help them accept new beliefs (without judgment). When you do there’s a very good chance that you both will become even more committed to your relationship.
Remember, we can really only control our own beliefs… so allow yours to be elastic – not rigid. Recognize when your beliefs are holding you and or others back. Learn to listen to your subconscious and to respond with thoughtfulness and compassion – not ReAcT… which often comes across with frustration and judgment.
The important part is to never stop exploring your own mind and your reasons for your actions – otherwise, you might find yourself holding on to out-of-date beliefs that are limiting your potential before you know it.
Work on changing hearts – not minds. Once you change a heart you make a permanent change.
Happy communicating… interviewing… mentoring… and training.
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