Science Says This is the Best Way to Persuade Someone Who’s Wrong (Jeff Bezos Will Hate It)
It’s frustrating when a friend or colleague is plainly mistaken. Is this method worth trying?
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
In today's America, we tend to feel gray areas are a touch pass.
You're either right or you're wrong. And if you can't see which you are, then you're two slices short of a sandwich.
How, though, can you even begin to persuade someone who's mistaken -- or even worse, vehemently disagrees with you?
A new study makes a curious suggestion, one that won't please everyone.
The study, conducted by Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth College and Jason Reifler of the University of Exeter, is entitled The roles of information deficits and identity threat in the prevalence of misperceptions.
They're very polite about the fountains of knowledge pouring into today's humans.
"Why do so many Americans hold misperceptions?" the researchers ask.
To which I reply: "Why do many Americans now put mis in front of pleasant words, instead of calling them that they really are? Lying has become misspeaking? Oh, I don't think it has."
Nyhan and Reifler come to a startling, even painful conclusion: "In three experiments, we find that providing information in graphical form reduces misperceptions. A third study shows that this effect is greater than for equivalent textual information."
Yes, if you want to persuade your half-cut, halfwitted neighbor or colleague about the parlous state of the world and the dangers of fascism/socialism/democracy/self-help books, your best bet is to show them a chart.
Worse, it seems that a chart is better than even text. Goodness, is that where I've been going wrong all my life?
I can, though, already see Jeff Bezos's eyes rolling into the back of his head and emerging with a very red hue.
As the Amazon CEO explained in his latest letter to shareowners: "We don't do PowerPoint (or any other slide-oriented) presentations at Amazon. Instead, we write narratively structured six-page memos. We silently read one at the beginning of each meeting in a kind of 'study hall.'"
So no slides or charts and graphics for Bezos. All he wants is a short story. Could he, perhaps, misperceive the benefits of charts?
Still, charts surely can't be so effective, otherwise everyone would have tried them.
Moreover, it's not as if you can create a chart to describe every false belief. How, for example, do you create a chart for a CEO who simply thinks his touch and feel is always right?
Nyhan and Reifler explain that a considerable reason why people hold on to false information is purely psychological. It confirms their world view.
"On high-profile issues, many of the misinformed are likely to have already encountered and rejected correct information that was discomforting to their self-concept or worldview," they say.
Yes, but it's not as if that nice man on CNN with his Election Night charts has ever persuaded many people, is it?
Expect, though, the rising stars in many companies now rushing to create charts in order to show that they're right and their brain-manacled bosses are wrong.
Expect, too, that American politics will now be revolutionized with the presentation of definitive charts of right and wrong.
You think I'm wrong about that?
Send me a chart to show me why.