Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 17, Issue 11;   March 15, 2017: Influence and Belief Perseverance

Influence and Belief Perseverance

by

Belief perseverance is the pattern that causes us to cling more tightly to our beliefs when contradictory information arrives. Those who understand belief perseverance can use it to manipulate others.
The 1934 rally of the Nazi Party in Germany

The 1934 rally of the Nazi Party in Germany, one of an annual series conducted from 1923 to 1938. The rallies were enormous, multi-day affairs, reaching nearly a million people by 1938. Speeches delivered at these rallies were intended to bond the people and the party. They featured military parades, martial music, speeches by political and military leaders, and multiple opportunities for attendees to salute the leadership and express agreement with the presented content. From the perspective of the phenomenon of belief perseverance, these events exploited the technique of using belief packages. By arranging for attendees to express support for some portions of the events, they arranged for them to affiliate with other portions of the events. And by distributing film of the events to the nonattending population in theaters afterwards, they created affiliation opportunities for what we would now call remote attendees.

Something analogous happens in all political rallies, though most modern rallies are free of militarism and doctrines of racial animus. Photo credit: Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-04062A / CC-BY-SA 3.0, courtesy Wikipedia.

Belief perseverance is the tendency to adhere to a belief despite receiving information that contradicts or disconfirms it. Numerous studies have demonstrated the phenomenon. [Baumeister 2007] It's real. Puzzling, but real. It's especially puzzling when we encounter it in knowledge workers, who tend to be skilled critical thinkers.

Still, with regard to beliefs about oneself — one's own talents, strengths, and positive attributes — we might expect a certain lack of objectivity. We might expect that same lack of objectivity with respect to to beliefs about specific people, especially those about whom we have strong opinions, favorable or not. But for beliefs about the subject matter of knowledge work, we expect more clarity of thought.

We might expect more, but we would be disappointed from time to time. To understand why, let's explore just one mechanism that can lead to belief perseverance.

Our culture values consistency. People want to see themselves, and want to be seen, as consistent. Changing one's views is something we want to believe we do sparingly, and only with good cause, in part, because we want to be seen as credible. Perhaps unjustifiably, we regard people who change their views easily or frequently as easily influenced, indecisive, impulsive, unfocused, or less than credible. When we receive information that threatens the validity of beliefs we've expressed publicly, we devote our energies to defending those beliefs, because our personal brand is at stake.

This line of reasoning suggests several tactics for influencing others. I regard the examples below as manipulative and unethical. I offer them only to enable readers to recognize them when others use them.

Preventing change
If you anticipate a change you want to prevent, arrange to have people make public statements in support of beliefs that make that anticipated change seem unwise. This tactic is most effective if people don't yet know about the change you anticipate.
Suppressing contrary evidence
Suppressing Changing one's views is
something we want to
believe we do sparingly,
and only with good cause
evidence that supports a change you anticipate, but which you want to prevent, can be ineffective unless you first arrange to have people express positions opposing the change. Then, when the evidence comes to light, they'll be motivated to reject it.
Using belief packages
To bind someone to a belief B1, arrange to have him or her express how belief B2, to which they are already committed, implies B1. After they express belief in the connection between B1 and B2, B1 becomes part of a package with B2, and the individual becomes committed to the package.

Although public statements of belief do tend to bind people to that belief, so does silence, because failing to object to another's expression of belief can seem to be agreement. If you cannot arrange for people to publically express their own views, having them silently listen, without objection, to someone else expressing their own views might be just as effective in triggering belief perseverance. Go to top Top  Next issue: Unanswerable Questions  Next Issue

101 Tips for Managing ChangeIs your organization embroiled in Change? Are you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt? Read 101 Tips for Managing Change to learn how to survive, how to plan and how to execute change efforts to inspire real, passionate support. Order Now!

Footnotes

[Baumeister 2007]
Roy F. Baumeister and Kathleen D. Vohs, eds. Encyclopedia of Social Psychology. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications, Inc., 2007. Order from Amazon.com. Back

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenZLkFdSHmlHvCaSsuner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

Scott McLellan, White House Press Secretary, 2003-2006Devious Political Tactics: Cutouts
Cutouts are people or procedures that enable political operators to communicate in safety. Using cutouts, operators can manipulate their environments while limiting their personal risk. How can you detect cutouts? And what can you do about them?
The Garden Tiger moth, Arctia cajaTelephonic Deceptions: I
People have been deceiving each other at work since the invention of work. Nowadays, with telephones ever-present, telephonic deceptions are becoming more creative. Here's Part I of a handy guide for telephonic self-defense.
Two redwoods in the Stout Memorial Grove of the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in CaliforniaNot Really Part of the Team: I
Some team members hang back. They show little initiative and have little social contact with other team members. How does this come about?
The Costanza MatrixThe Costanza Matrix
The Seinfeld character "George Costanza" is famous for having said, "It's not a lie if you believe it." What if you don't believe it and it's true? Some musings.
The U.S. and Russian delegations meet to negotiate the New Start TreatyThe Discontinuity Effect: What and Why
Counterproductive competition is more likely in group-group interactions than in one-to-one or one-to-group interactions. Why does counterproductive competition happen?

See also Workplace Politics and Ethics at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Cracking walnuts with a nutcrackerComing February 1: The Big Power of Little Words
Big, fancy words, like commensurate or obfuscation, tend to be more noticed than the little everyday words, like yet or best. That might be why the little words can be so much more powerful, steering conversations where their users want them to go. Available here and by RSS on February 1.
Two bull elk sparring in Grand Teton National Park, WyomingAnd on February 8: Kerfuffles That Seem Like Something More
Much of what we regard as political conflict is a series of squabbles commonly called kerfuffles. They captivate us while they're underway, but after a month or two they're forgotten. Why do they happen? Why do they persist? Available here and by RSS on February 8.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenZLkFdSHmlHvCaSsuner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.