The Art of Persuasion: Techniques to Inspire Behavior Change
Unlocking Change: Empowering You to Decide! Discover three game-changing strategies to shift behaviour, from questioning norms to bridging beliefs. Say goodbye to directives and embrace lasting transformation on your terms!
In these challenging times, our governments and public health organisations are facing the daunting task of promoting behavioural change among the population. Encouraging people to practise social distancing, shelter in place, and adopt new habits for an extended period requires a different approach beyond simply telling them what to do. While many have initially followed recommendations, sustaining these changes can be challenging. Some individuals may revert to congregating in groups, ignoring stay-at-home orders, or demanding premature reopening of businesses.
The common method of issuing directives and demands proves less effective in the long run because people naturally desire a sense of control over their choices. When we’re told what to do, our instinctive anti-persuasion radar kicks in, and we may resist or push back against the pressure to comply. We are more likely to embrace change when we feel we have made the decision ourselves.
To drive lasting behavioural change, we can shift our approach and focus on empowering individuals to persuade themselves. Here are three strategies that can make a significant difference:
Bridging the Gap: A powerful way to foster a sense of freedom and control is by highlighting the inconsistency between an individual’s beliefs and actions. For instance, when encouraging young people to stay at home, we can ask them how they would advise their vulnerable grandparents or younger siblings. By making them reflect on this discrepancy, they may realise the importance of their own actions and become more inclined to align their behaviour with their beliefs.
In an effective anti-smoking campaign in Thailand, children approached smokers on the street asking for a light. After the smokers refused and expressed concerns about smoking’s dangers, the children handed them a note saying, “You worry about me … But why not about yourself?” The impact was profound, leading to a substantial increase in calls to a helpline for quitting smoking.
The Power of Questions: Rather than bombarding people with statements, we can engage them with thought-provoking questions. For example, instead of asserting, “Junk food makes you fat,” we can ask, “Do you think junk food is good for you?” By prompting individuals to articulate their opinions, we stimulate their critical thinking and encourage them to take ownership of their choices. When people arrive at their conclusions, they are more likely to commit to the desired action, as it becomes a reflection of their personal beliefs and preferences.
During this crisis, thought-provoking questions like, “How would you feel if your loved ones got sick?” can instigate genuine commitment to practising social distancing and maintaining vigilant hygiene practices.
Gradual Progression: When aiming for behavioural change, asking for smaller commitments initially and then gradually building up the request has proven to be more effective. Rather than demanding drastic transformations overnight, we can introduce changes in manageable steps. For instance, a doctor helped an obese trucker reduce his soda consumption by progressively decreasing his daily intake, resulting in significant weight loss.
In the context of the pandemic, gradually scaling restrictions by setting initial end dates and extending them as needed can garner better acceptance. By doing so, we recognize that behavioural change is a process, and people are more likely to respond positively to gradual adjustments rather than drastic upheavals.
Achieving sustainable behavioural change requires us to empower individuals to make choices aligned with their beliefs and preferences. By employing these three strategies – highlighting discrepancies, posing questions, and implementing gradual progression – we can create an environment where people are more inclined to embrace change willingly. As we adapt to new realities and face ongoing challenges, understanding the nuances of persuasion and reactance becomes vital in effecting positive and enduring change.