We have all had infuriating discussions with people who refuse to face facts and uphold their misguided beliefs.
Professor Gleb Tsipursky from Ohio State University has now found an effective way to get past the defensive wall that is so often is met during difficult conversations.
Emotions often play a much larger role than reason when we form beliefs. Engaging with these emotions is the first step toward changing someone’s views, Professor Tsipursky explained in an op-ed for Inside Higher Ed.
Finding common goals, building rapport, sharing information and positively reinforcing new views are also crucial to showing someone a new perspective.
Research shows that presenting people with facts that contradict opinions they identify with can ‘backfire’ because their character feels threatened, causing them to reject rational reason and strengthen their identification with misguided beliefs.
Joe she's not wrong or stupid just because you don't like facts that challenge your misguided beliefs. Medical bankruptcy #1 type in the US
— Valorie hurley (@Real_ladyhurley) August 1, 2017
“While gut reactions can be helpful, they can also lead us astray in systematic and predictable ways,” said Professor Tsipursky.
“You need to deploy the skill of empathy – understanding other people’s emotions – to determine what emotional blocks might cause them to stick their heads in the sand.”
A student came to see him after a lecture on climate change, asserting it is a liberal conspiracy against businesses that allows governments to over-regulate for profit.
This view, the student explained, stemmed from his father losing his job at a factory that moved to Mexico as it could no longer afford to comply with the red tape in the US.
We as humans are non-binary. We experience too many emotions to stay on one side of ANY spectrum. Embodiment, opinion, emotion, action; we are entitled to changing our minds at ANY time.
— pHoenix Pagliacci (@itsmepagliacci) January 21, 2018
Professor Tsipursky resisted berating the student for ignoring scientific facts about climate change, and instead empathetically listened to gain an understanding of where his beliefs stemmed from.
Through understanding the student’s fear about jobs being lost in his country, the professor was able to connect with the rationale behind his rejection of facts and explain there are many jobs being created as a result of climate change, such as those in conservation, sustainability and green energy.
“He confessed he was feeling mental strain due to denying scientific findings and was relieved to see that believing in science did not have to mean he would not find a job,” said Professor Tsipursky.
“I hope it [the five steps] helps you address similar situations with students, friends and family, or anyone else who holds misguided beliefs.”