To Change Attitudes, Create Human Connections

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For decades, researchers have tried solve a puzzle: what’s the best way to change strong attitudes, such as prejudice.  The answer, as Steve Hilton makes in More Human: Designing a World Where People Come First is to be giving people the ability to see others as being more like us than not.

In the 1960s, the approach to ending “separate but equal” and creating equal rights for was integration – give people of different races (and by extension other groups) contact with one another so they will reduce their prejudice. That didn’t work, because contact alone doesn’t change a fundamental belief that “we’re in this bigger picture together”.  Two psychologists, Muzafer and Caroline Sherif created “The Robbers Cave Experiment” (1954) to discover what might enable two conflicting groups to overcome their prejudices – and discovered that the answer was the creation of a super-ordinate goal: a goal that could only be accomplished if both groups see each other as humans, like themselves, rather than stereotyped “others”.

More recently, we’ve seen this same phenomenon take place when staunch anti-gay rights conservative politicians, like former vice President Dick Cheney, broke with his opposition of gay marriage for his lesbian daughter. So did Senator Rob Portman, upon learning his son was gay, because he now viewed the issue from “a new perspective, and that’s of a dad who loves his son a lot and wants him to have the same opportunities that his brother and sister have – to have a relationship like (my wife) and I have had for over 26 years.”

For presenters, therefore, the key is to bring theoretical issues and global facts down to the human level: how will it affect the audience’s lives directly. Smart politicians recognize this. When trying to get change in the health care system, they raise lack of access and high costs of health care as an issue; but they then tell the story about specific people (which members of the audience can identify with) who did not get the help they needed and were fatally injured as a result. Corporate sales people do the same: they don’t focus on the benefits of time, cost, and convenience as factual issues; they translate them into the benefits that the actual buyers and users will individually experience: the ability to do their job faster, with fewer errors, and more powerfully so they achieve their goals (e.g., more money, time and growth opportunities)

Take a look at your presentation: does it translate the facts and figures into concrete insights and benefits that the audience can immediately appreciate will make his/her life better?  It’s not easy to do at one sitting; you need to grasp the concept, step away, and then come back and make it human.

What’s your experience? Share it with us.