Change Beliefs At Work

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.

Changing Beliefs

Changing beliefs is like a house of cards.

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.

Conclusion:

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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Beliefs

Beliefs became a topic of study when I was developing my Managing Difficult Conversations training program. I kept asking myself; “When and How do we change beliefs?” and ”What are the barriers that keep you and I locked into our beliefs not wanting – or not able to change?”

So lets answer these questions… and if you have any other questions or thoughts, please comment / submit them below.

What Are Beliefs?

Beliefs

Changing a belief; like climbing a mountain.

Beliefs govern our behaviour. I like how James P. Carse (Professor Emeritus of history and literature of religion at New York University), explains beliefs as having boundaries.

I’m visually oriented (please stick with me), so in my mind I see the beliefs / boundaries as walls of a home. This home has rooms which contain and support our goals and values. We are very comfortable and feel protected in this home. There are doors and windows, but the windows have curtains (that makes it difficult to see a different perspective), and the doors are locked. We cannot leave unless we choose to unlock the door and then make another choice to leave the house (but those two actions don’t happen easily).

This home is built using the social, political and entertainment norms we’ve grown up with. It’s also built with the education and the experiences we’ve had. We experience conflict and feel stress when our boundaries (our beliefs), are exposed to different norms that we can’t ignore (like someone banging on the door). Argh!!! And shouting “Go Away” doesn’t work.

Our Beliefs Guide Our Behaviour

When we are calm and happy in our home, our beliefs guide the ideas we have, our judgements and assumptions. They create a base for many of the automatic responses we have to the world around us. Beliefs act as support structures for our behaviour and control our actions like:

  • Where we live
  • Who we spend time with
  • How we behave
  • How we think others should behave
  • What grocery stores or restaurants we attend
  • For Millennials And Gen Zers especially, it’s likely their beliefs will guide who they work for

Beliefs Can Be Helpful: Because our beliefs shape our actions and how we experience the world, we depend on their consistency to keep us safe and to help us make predictable, automatic decisions. We don’t have to analyze every moment of our lives and every decision. Our boundaries make life easy because we stop being curious about many things.

Beliefs Can Be Restrictive: Because our beliefs create a boundary within which inquiry and curiosity is very limited, our beliefs keep us from trying new things. Beliefs have rigidity and closure – we can actually become fearful of trying new things…  surprise is ruled out. Most of the time when this happens (and this is important), people do not realize how constrained beliefs keep them.

When we react automatically without thinking or analysis it feels safe, it saves time, it feels good… it can even make us feel smart… and this is why it’s so difficult to change people’s mind.

Believing offers people emotional safety, the potential to speak with authority… to be respected and even honoured.

Changing Beliefs

Believers will always be able to answer any question and their answer will seem perfectly rational (to them), even if there is no proof. If you don’t agree with their beliefs then they’ll think you are the one who is wrong… which makes it difficult to win an argument with a believer.

Asking someone to adopt new beliefs puts their current reality and support structures at risk; you are asking them to move from a familiar and secure place. This will be very unsettling to them – feelings most people try to avoid. Because we depended on our barriers of beliefs, we will accept even illogical arguments to support them.

Changing BeliefsTo change a belief you have to create a reality where the person will feel safe. Believers must have something new to believe in – new support structures (including new emotional supports). Then, give them an opportunity to change/migrate their beliefs – like a ship crossing an ocean moving from one port to another.

Stories are powerful tools to change beliefs because stories often trigger emotions, and emotions are proven to be better motivators than logic. Stories push creativity – curiosity – wonder – ideas – judgment – humanity – empathy – compassion and… independent thought.

Like I suggested above, logic alone will often not work (if it did people would not smoke). But if you are able to emotionally trigger people, you’ll be on your way to changing their beliefs.

Conclusion

Beliefs give us security, dependability and confidence; we use them to justify our behaviour. They control almost every decision we make or judgement we have. Our beliefs help us predict what tomorrow will bring and give us the confidence and comfort to predict the types of challenges we might face, the people we will meet, how we will act, the conversations we will have, the foods we will eat – and so on.

Beliefs make our lives easier… we depend on them even thought our beliefs are often illogical, unproven and even contradictory. And yet, we count on them for much of our emotional and practical well-being.

PS: Supporting Our Beliefs About People

Beliefs give us rules on how we should act and in many cases what to think. Because of this we tend to decide whether we like or dislike people very quickly – often based on one thing. We then use every other experience we have with that person to support our decision; for example, you may think “I like Doug’s politics,” therefore you’ll find Doug’s voice pleasant and then might begin to list all the things you have in common…. however, if you don’t like Doug’s politics, you will likely find many other things about them unpleasant (like their voice or how they dress). In other words, if you believe in the conclusion, you will also begin to believe any of the arguments (strong or weak), that will support the conclusion. Like saying “I don’t like fish because I don’t like the smell of canned smoke oysters.”

Happy communicating.

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If you enjoyed this post we think you’ll like:

Bruce Mayhew Consulting facilitates courses including Business Writing, Email Etiquette, Time Management and Mindfulness.

Bruce Mayhew on Canada AM

Click on the image to watch us on Canada AM.

Find answers to your Professional Development questions / needs at brucemayhewconsulting.com.

Call us at 416.617.0462.

View Bruce Mayhew's profile on LinkedIn

Bruce Mayhew Consulting

I’d enjoy reading your comments on this post.

 

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