How to change people’s minds

I noticed that one of the points I made in my first blog post that generated some interest was the idea of “changing people’s minds” through communication.

After all, as a nonprofit communication person, that is ultimately my job. So, I am going to lay out what I see as the five basic steps to using communication to change people’s minds about an issue.

1) Just the facts, ma’am. One of, if not the first, things you need to do is make sure you have out the facts out there about why behavior X is better than behavior Y. Data is cold and heartless and is never sufficient for changing someone’s mind, but it is necessary to supplement everything else you are doing. In our case, we make sure folks know that, on average, when children grow up without fathers, they face a variety of risks across various measures of well being.

2) Give them something to do. When trying to end one set of behaviors, you can rarely make someone stop without giving them something to replace those behaviors with. Moreover, as I said in one of my replies to the first blog post, it is easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting. That is why fatherhood skill-building is a huge part of what we do. We make sure that we are actually helping dads build their skills (communication, parenting, relationships, etc) and giving them practical ideas for every day involvement in their kids lives.

Image3) Inspire them with “fluff.” From time to time it is important to supplement the facts and the action with inspirational messages and stories to keep folks motivated. There has been much written about the power of telling good stories, so I won’t go into that here, but just know that showing (via stories) is often more powerful than telling (such as using data). There is also the concept of “social learning,” where people learn by watching others. So, in our case, the more we can show examples of fathers being involved in their kids lives, the more we can hope to inspire other fathers to do the same.

4) Cut out the negativity. On the other side of the “inspiration” coin is “the word that is the opposite of inspiration.” I don’t have a thesaurus handy, sorry. But just like people can be inspired by a good story or an inspirational PSA, they can also be de-motivated or discouraged if they see too many examples of people engaged in the behavior they are trying to move away from. In our case, there are far too many examples of “bad dads” out there in the media, and far too many messages out there about how fathers are “replaceable.” We do what we can to discourage folks from producing those types of messages, and, if they are produced, from consuming them (eg, write a blog post condemning a bad sitcom).

5) Rinse and Repeat. I wonder how many people actually wash their hair twice, like the shampoo bottle suggests. But I digress. The point here is that you have to keep doing all of the above over and over again in order to help people really move from one attitude and set of behaviors to another. It is a long, tough process, but it is worth it! When we hear stories about how a dad turned things around and is involved in his child’s life, it makes all the effort worth it.

What do you think? Did I leave anything out? Would love to hear your feedback.



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3 responses to “How to change people’s minds

  1. I forgot to write that the above was written by me, Vincent DiCaro, Vice President of Development and Communication for National Fatherhood Initiative.

  2. Susan Allen

    Dear Vincent; What a great post. I appreciate that your talking points come from long experience and I won’t forget your “wash hair twice” image. In our class, we’ve been gathering stories of times when we changed our attitudes and almost everyone said they began by changing behavior and then the attitude followed. But in many of our jobs we don’t have the chance to change behavior directly. Do you believe that when people express an intention to change a behavior, they will follow through? Thanks for these blogs.

  3. Taylor Bicho

    Hi Vincent,
    I enjoyed reading your post. I work in advertising, and similarly we work to change or encourage specific consumer behaviors. I agree that facts are powerful but pulling on emotional heart strings tends to be a better performing tactic. In today’s society, it is also very important to excessively repeat in order to change behaviors and get things to stick, especially with all of the other noise/distractions out there.

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