We have all been in the situation I am sure where we are in a “robust” discussion with someone and they just will not budge from their position, despite the fact we are putting indisputable evidence and facts before them. Our brilliant argument backfires. Frustrating to say the least.
Typically this has been explained by psychologists as the other person, in hearing your argument, recalling their own defensive arguments and “digging in” for the battle. It results in a fruitless attempt to reason and does not resolve the situation. If we are honest, we have probably been guilty of doing this ourselves. But there is another possible explanation for such belligerence.
Recent research by Gregory Trevors and other published early in 2016 (read the full article here) studied the responses of 120 people to arguments that challenged their erroneous position with facts. They found people did not “dig in” because they were convinced their argument was right, but because the contrary argument threatened their sense of identity and consequently triggered negative emotions that impaired their ability to understand and digest the new information.
For many of us our beliefs define who we are, and to have those beliefs challenged, even with indisputable facts and evidence, is to challenge who we see ourselves as – our very identity. Consequently our instinctive reaction is to defend who we are, and in that process, we are unable to digest this new information.
While more research is needed in this area, the current research can give us some clues as to how we might handle these sorts of discussions (arguments) better by giving us pause to reflect on how we might frame our discussions/arguments. We need to avoid putting them into the context of this identity concept by de-personalising the points we are making. Also, it may be better to handle such discussions in two or more parts by initially exposing the other person to this new information and giving them time to process and assimilate it before requiring them to act on it.
Think about your role and situations where you may be required to challenge someone with new facts, for example in the context of introducing change into the workplace. How can you approach this differently, now knowing that you may well be threatening people’s very identity?
The Avondale Business School can advise your organisation on being effective in these areas – find out how by contacting Warrick Long at the Avondale Business School.
P: 02 4980 2168