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 non-attending 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. Available from Amazon Back

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenqiqiEkeDmpFxITdCner@ChaclGdXABZvoyBVyJPvoCanyon.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?
ApplesCurrying Favor
The behavior of the office kiss-up drives many people bats. It's more than annoying, though — it does real harm to the organization. What is the behavior?
An elephant family drinking, Samburu National Reserve KenyaStalking the Elephant in the Room: I
The expression "the elephant in the room" describes the thought that most of us are thinking, and none of us dare discuss. Usually, we believe that in avoidance lies personal safety. But free-ranging elephants present intolerable risks to both the organization and its people.
Ross Marshall and Don Pugh at the kickoff meeting for the Expeditionary Combat Support System (ECSS) at Tinker Air Force BaseDeep Trouble and Getting Deeper
Here's a catalog of actions people take when the projects they're leading are in deep trouble, and they're pretty sure there's no way out.
The city walls of Dubrovnik, CroatiaProblem Displacement by Intention
When solving problems creates new problems, or creates problems elsewhere, we say that problem displacement has occurred. Sometimes it's intentional.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Children playing a computer gameComing July 18: High Falutin' Goofy Talk: III
Workplace speech and writing sometimes strays into the land of pretentious but overused business phrases, which I like to call high falutin' goofy talk. We use these phrases with perhaps less thought than they deserve, because they can be trite or can evoke indecorous images. Here's Part III of a collection of phrases and images to avoid. Available here and by RSS on July 18.
Office equipment — or is it office toys?And on July 25: Exploiting Functional Fixedness: II
A cognitive bias called functional fixedness causes difficulty in recognizing new uses for familiar things. It also makes for difficulty in recognizing devious uses of everyday behaviors. Here's Part II of a catalog of deviousness based on functional fixedness. Available here and by RSS on July 25.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmljYwbvWkRtSqityner@ChacEnRiDtZyxkWdxjNZoCanyon.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 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Race to the South Pole: The Power of Agile Development
On 14The Race to the Pole: An Application of Agile Development December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. Lessons abound. Among the more important lessons are those that demonstrate the power of the agile approach to project management and product development. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post 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.
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.