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 causeevidence 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. Top Next Issue
Is 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!
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.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.
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.
More articles on Workplace Politics:
- More Indicators of Scopemonging
- Scope creep — the tendency of some projects to expand their goals — is usually an unintended
consequence of well-intentioned choices. But sometimes, it's part of a hidden agenda that some use to
overcome budgetary and political obstacles.
- Social Transactions: We're Doing It My Way
- We have choices about how we conduct social transactions — greetings, partings, opening doors,
and so on. Some transactions require that we collaborate with others. In social transactions, how do
we decide whose preferences rule?
- The Power and Hazards of Anecdotes: II
- Anecdotes are powerful tools of persuasion, but with that power comes a risk that we might become persuaded
of false positions. Here is Part II of a set of examples illustrating some hazards of anecdotes.
- The Opposite of Influence
- The question of why some people are so influential has a partner question: why are others largely ignored,
or opposed, even when their contributions are valuable?
- Columbo Tactics: II
- This is Part II of a series showing how the less powerful can adapt the tactics of TV detective Lt.
Columbo when they're interacting with the more powerful.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 24: The Stupidity Attribution Error
- In workplace debates, we sometimes conclude erroneously that only stupidity can explain why our debate partners fail to grasp the elegance or importance of our arguments. There are many other possibilities. Available here and by RSS on July 24.
- And on July 31: More Things I've Learned Along the Way: IV
- When I have an important insight, or when I'm taught a lesson, I write it down. Here's Part IV from my personal collection. Available here and by RSS on July 31.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.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:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, USD 28.99)
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
- The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Leadership
- On 14 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. But to organizational leaders, business analysts, project
sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. We'll use the history of this event to explore
lessons in leadership and its application to organizational efforts. A fascinating and refreshing look
at leadership from the vantage point of history. Read
more about this program. Here's a date for this program:
- Baldwin-Wallace University, 275 Eastland Road, Berea, Ohio
44017: November 7,
Kerzner Lecture Series/International Project Management Day, sponsored by Baldwin Wallace University and the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Project Management Institute.
- Baldwin-Wallace University, 275 Eastland Road, Berea, Ohio 44017: November 7, Kerzner Lecture Series/International Project Management Day, sponsored by Baldwin Wallace University and the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people 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.