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So here's the ChangingMinds Blog, from site author, David Straker. This is my more personal ramblings, though mostly about changing minds in some shape or form. Please do add your comments via the archive or the right-hand column below.  -- Dave


Sunday 22-May-16

How to be intimidating. Or not.

I recently had a conversation about intimidation with a person who was concerned that they were scaring others, even when they tried not to do so. Here are some of the thoughts that came out of that very interesting conversation.

Intimidating others means engendering fear, often with the purpose of coercing them into doing something they do not want to do. We can also do this accidentally or deliberately - the bottom line is that the other person feels a degree of fear as a result of their encounter with us.

Ways we can intimidate others include:

  • Staring at them, particularly without blinking.
  • Getting too close to them, entering their 'personal space'.
  • Speaking aggressively, even about other people.
  • Moving jerkily or suddenly, especially when you are close or when actions simulate harm (eg. chopping motion or with fist).
  • Behaving erratically and unpredictably, so they do not know what you will say or do next.

The ease with which we can accidentally intimidate suggests that we might reflect on how we act around others. Maybe we don't mean to be intimidating, yet it's possible we sometimes are, though without really noticing it. Paradoxically, when are act in intimidating ways, it is often a response to feeling intimidated ourselves. We sense aggression and meet fire with fire, escalating our aggressive stance. This can be overt and deliberate, but is often subtle and not noticed, even by us. Yet even small changes in how we act can make others uncomfortable.

A way to monitor this is to watch how other people react around you. Do they look alarmed? Do they back away? Do they give you space? Do they avoid you altogether? If so, try to see yourself through their eyes and decide consciously how you want them to respond to you, and consequently how you need to act around them.

To be non-intimidating, just do the reverse of intimidating action. For example:

  • Look warmly at them, but not for too long.
  • Give them space and act respectfully.
  • Listen attentively and act in kindly ways.
  • Be positive about other people.
  • Move smoothly and naturally. Keep hands open.


Sunday 15-May-16

Who moved my table? Nobody, but I should have!

Last weekend I was helping out with 'Bee Friendly Monmouthshire' a local voluntary group that is working to increase awareness and action in protecting pollinators, including butterflies, moths, hoverflies and, of course bees. There's around 260 varieties of wild bees in the UK and without them, farmers would have to spend about 1.8B in artificial pollination, yet the pressures of survival means they are still planting monocultures that limit pollinator feed, cutting undergrowth where pollinators live and using poisons that kill pollinators as well as pests.

But enough of that. Much of my work with BfM is in persuasive wording, but last weekend I was just manning a stall at a country house nearby which was opening its gardens to the public as a part of the National Gardens Scheme.

The situation was that there was a set of tables selling various things just next to the house, snagging visitors as they came to see the gardens. Near me was a range of plant stalls, selling flowers and vegetable seedlings at quite reasonable prices. I put my table a little away from them at what I thought was a nice angle, in a curve nearer the front door of the house. People like bees, I though. They'll come to see me as they walk in and not be distracted by the other stalls.

I was quite wrong. I was not the bee. They were. The real attraction for people coming to visit the gardens was the cheap plants. Not some guy in the corner going on about bees.

What I should have done was to move my table up next to the plant stalls, so as the visitors moved down the line, they ended up with me. But somehow I didn't do this. Why? Because of embarrassment and pride. If I'd moved my table, I would have to admit that I was wrong. Even if no words were exchanged with the other stallholders, they would know -- I would be admitting to having been wrong.

Darn that pride. It stops us doing the right thing so often. Next time, I'll swallow it. Really.

Sunday 08-May-16

As, Bs and the Three Secrets of a Successful Life

I recently answered a question on Quora that asked 'My teacher said B students will work for the A students. Is this true?'. I felt for the student, whose situation I did not know. I also felt for the teacher -- I've been there and motivating students can be a hugely frustrating task.

Here is my answer to the question. Yes, I know it's not quite the answer asked. I was trying to answer the real question underneath:

What your teacher is probably really saying is that the students who are getting Bs but who are capable of getting As are showing a tendency to be lazy. Life is generally not kind to those who are lazy, and indeed they do tend to end up working for people who are more diligent.

The secret of success is often described as 'hard work and luck', which pretty much describes my life. I worked my socks off, had my fair share of luck and retired from 'real' work at 58, although five years later I'm still as busy as I've every been.

I've heard a number of successful people say that the harder they work, the luckier they get, which suggests that what people call luck is not random chance, but being able to see opportunities and then grasping them with both hands. It also suggests that successful people are grateful for the opportunities that they have had -- and as gratitude is closely linked with happiness, this explains how you can be both successful and happy (and relatively few people have both).

So what does this mean for you?

School is about opportunity. Take it, while you can. Grasp it with both hands and see it as a fabulous chance to build a great future. Work hard, because every hour invested now will likely pay you back hugely in the future.

If, after this, you get a B, then be grateful, because otherwise you would probably have got a C or D. If you get an A, be grateful too, then seek the step-up opportunities that this gives you. Even if you get a C or whatever, you can still feel good because you have done your best. Look for strengths in other subjects, because we all have different talents. Do not give up because failure only happens when you stop trying.

Work hard. Grasp opportunities. Be grateful. It's the secret of a successful life.

Your comments

Another great article! I loved the last paragraph. Will add it to my quote list.

 -- Ivan M.

Sunday 01-May-16

Free Speech, Dignity and Tolerance

In free society, there are two counterbalancing sets of rights and duties. Firstly, the right of free speech allows me to speak my mind without fear of reprisal. This places a duty of tolerance on those who may dislike what I say. On the other hand, there is also a right of dignity, whereby speakers have a duty to be considerate in their speech, self-censoring before speaking.

This creates a continuing tension, where we want to express ourselves while repressing others. This can be seen where opposing people each claim the right and impose the duty that suits them best. A common instance is in religion, where people of one faith are intolerant of people with different beliefs, yet expect tolerance of their own outspoken views

There is a point in here about power, including personal power to speak and act at will, as well as formal power of authority and law. The right of free speech assumes those insulted are powerful enough to silence or take harmful revenge on controversial speakers. Laws of free speech hence give protection to speakers and place a duty on listeners to hold back any desire to attack. On the other hand, the right of dignity assumes many are powerless to defend against those who cause distress or orher harm by what they say. Laws here include those around libel, harassment, equality and incitement.

It is a sad indictment of the human condition that we tend to selfish lack of consideration. When insulted, we feel justified in responding harshly. Worse, bullies gain pleasure in the distress of others as they boost their own sense of control and power. To counteract this tendency, social norms and formal laws form a structure that seeks to balance freedom and protection, moderating more powerful people from using harmful speech or revenge against speakers.

There has in recent years been a steady increase in laws and norms that support dignity over free speech. While the rights of the vulnerable are of course important, this has transferred power to their protectors, some of whom abuse this power as they seek to silence their critics while trumpeting their own cause. The move to dignity rights has also led to increasing sensitivity, where people take insult more easily. Paradoxically, this leads to a more paranoid and less tolerant society. Indeed, the outrage that intolerance provokes can be linked to much modern conflict.

For people of different beliefs to coexist, perhaps we need to rebalance a little, allowing more insult and expecting more toleration than outrage. The happy medium should be both a right to talk without fear of reprisals, and a duty to be tolerant of those who speak their minds. When we express our views, we should be both fearless and considerate, not just one or the other.

Sunday 24-March-16

How do you deal with someone who has a superiority complex?

I sometimes respond to questions on Quora, in which I try to encourage people to be positive and thoughtful. Here's one I wrote recently on the question of how to handle people who always seem to act in a superior way, as if they are better than you and you are inferior. It's an annoying situation that we all face, some on a daily basis.

First watch them. Do they act superior with everyone, or mostly you? If the latter, then look for things you do that unintentionally encourages them. For example do you feel inferior at any level? You can also ask a trusted friend who can see both of you in action.

Also think: what exactly do they do that bothers me? Why does it bother me? Really why.

The above may offer you a way to change how you react to them that helps you feel better.

You can also try to understand what is driving them to act this way. It may be a reaction to them feeling inferior and over-compensating. If you can get a better handle on how they are thinking and feeling, you will have a far better chance of managing the situation.

Much human behaviour is based in the desire for status. You can see it in many everyday conversations and the way we try to impress people and get their approval. You also see it in the way people try to push others down so they can (relatively) rise. This can lead to status battles, where the real issue is not about business and not about respect. The pattern is often win-lose. At best both people get a little out of most encounters. At worst it is lose-lose.

Try to step away from status and win-lose thinking. Try moving the conversation and situation towards win-win. They will often resist this as they see you winning as them losing. Persist with adult, peer interactions (not parent-child) with them. Be authentic. Be patient. Avoid being negative.

You can fight back, but only do so when you have given the positive approach a good go. Only do so when you are ready. Do not pick a fight you will lose. Aim for short, sharp responses that will make them think hard about what they are doing (and give them time to do this).

In the end, if they cannot move from their superiority position and insist on taking more than they give, then go elsewhere. If they are friends, dump them. If they are people at work, move to another position or get another job elsewhere.

Sunday 17-April-16

Populism and terrorism: two trends with a common cause

There has recently been a spate of populist politics around the world, from Syriza in Greece to Podemas in Spain to UKIP in the UK. It works with individuals too, and the popularity of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in the USA presidential primaries plays to the same basic audience.

Imagine you are young, possibly unemployed and finding life incredibly tough. Your pay is low, rents are high and rocketing, and the general gap between where you are and where you would like to be seems to be widening way faster than you could ever catch up. Your future, if you ever had one, seems to be fading even before you got going. You see older generations or middle classes who are doing ok and feel you will never have it as good as them. You see fat cats in business who pay themselves enormous salaries and even bigger bonuses. Politicians naturally suck up to these richer voters and seem to have all but abandoned you. And, for that matter, your friends and maybe your entire family.

Imagine alternatively that you have moved to a new country, or perhaps your parents did. From birth, you are an outsider. Yes, you have your local community, but the older people just hark on about the old country which you know little about. You faced bias and bullying when growing up. Then much of the jobs market seems closed to you. And when some idiot who only has the same religion as you commits a terrorist act, you are suddenly a prime suspect, being stopped or ignored even more. You feel abandoned, outside the system. Even if you were doing well within the system, perhaps working towards a well-respected profession, you know you will always be treated with suspicion.

Then somebody comes along who understands your plight. They criticize the corrupt establishment who do not understand you and care even less. They promise to make things better. They say your world will be so much nicer, if only you follow them. So you do. You like them. You may even get to love them, for at last here is someone with who you can connect. And when their rhetoric is criticized by outsiders, this only serves to intensify your connection with them. Of course those establishment people will criticize, just like they always have. What do they care about you? Not like your new leader, who truly understands you, who will fix things for you, and for who you will do goodness knows what.

 Populism and terrorism are not the same, but they target very similar audiences and hook them in the same way, by first empathizing and then converting. It is not surprising that outsiders going to Trump rallies have found them pretty scary, or that Trump scares many establishment Republicans. The same is probably true within religious groups, where the radicals attract the disaffected and terrifies the mainstream.

Sunday 03-April-16

Terrorism, radicalization and the polarizing politics of outrage

There has recently been another terrorist attack, this time in Brussels, and not so long after the simultaneous gun and bomb assaults in Paris, both of which left many dead and injured, and millions horrified.

Why do they do it? It's a common cry.

Aside from martyrdom, the real reason is to escalate their cause, which is to spread their fundamentalist religion and ultimately to destroy western civilisation. They believe in a prophecy of Armageddon and are working to create it.

How do they do this? Through the politics of outrage.

The first step is to outrage their enemy, who they largely see as western governments. This is the first purpose of the terrorist acts. The governments of course show public outrage (they would be castigated if they did not) and respond in various ways, from rounding up suspects to intensifying proxy wars in regions where those who seem to have energized the terrorists operate.

Outraged citizens may also take the law into their own hands, attacking innocents who are seen as linked to the terrorist group, typically by religious affiliation. The media join in too, for example pressing for total condemnation by people of the religion and then condemning them for an insufficient response.

The terrorist organisation then amplifies and plays this back to their potential supporters, highlighting the oppression of their people, outraging and radicalizing many in the process. It's a game of polarization, dividing and pushing either side to extremes, where outrage is used to justify extreme measures.

And so the cycle spins. With a few acts of barbarity, the terrorists create huge chaos, fear and knee-jerk reaction that is food for their cause. They will use understandable reprisals to persuade more to radicalism.

They also cause cause massive ongoing security costs and other disruption that costs billions and so weakens their target enemies.

If we want to break this cycle of hate, outrage and reaction, we each must step back from recrimination, even verbally so. We must try to understand realities and beware of demonizing the innocent majority. We must work to change minds rather than fall prey to outraged polarisation.

It may be hard, but it is the best way to peace.

Sunday 27-March-16

The Striving Mentalist

I was on a cruise ship recently and went to a show by a young man who goes by the stage name of 'Phoenix'. He was good, but he could have been better.

He started with a memory display where he remembered the sequence of cards in a deck. The set up to this was messy, with getting various audience members to split and shuffle cards. He dropped a couple of cards along the way. Was this a part of the act? It didn't add anything so was just a minor irritation.

I got dragged up on stage for the prestige (serves me right for sitting in the front row) as the shuffled pack was split in two and he pointed to the person who had each card. Frustratingly, the other person got confused and didn't remove one card, hence messing up the end of the trick ('I've got a card left over!'). I thought this a little unkind. Don't expose the performer even if you can see the trick. And if you are the performer, handle such events with elegant grace, perhaps even turning into another amazing event.

He also did a good 'psychic' mind-reading trick, telling members of the audience marvellous facts about their lives. It worked well as the people seemed genuinely startled, though the hand-to-head 'It's coming to me' stuff was a bit over-cooked.

The main illusion was a complex show that involved guessing words that members of the audience had put in an envelope. The overall trick was again done well and I've no idea how he did it. Yet again, it could have been more coherent, talking more and being clearer about what he was 'doing'. Audiences need a strong story they can follow.

I think he is good but is still learning stagecraft. He made an impact on Australia's Got Talent and is now stepping up. He referenced the UK's Derren Brown and is clearly influenced by him. I've seen Derren who is very polished. An illusionist friend noted that he knows how Derren does most of his tricks, but what impresses him is the way Derren turns a relatively basic illusion into an amazing performance.

There's an important point here for all of us. Whether you are performing or just chatting, a key task is guiding what your audience thinks and feels. In this, do not expect them to understand everything you say, and do not expect them to remember what you said a minute ago. Always be clear and expect to repeat yourself. Notice how rapt or distracted they seem as you steadily reel them in. Only when you have their expectant attention should you deliver the knockout punchline.

Sunday 20-March-16

The Greatest America?

Donald Trump is still doing well, with his sweeping statements gaining remarkable influence. Recently, he said '...we are going to make America great again. Maybe greater than before.' Hmmm. Maybe he's on to something there.

No matter what you think of him, Trump is playing a fine game of cards, bluffing and bamboozling his opponents and stealing their oxygen, their media inches and minutes, with his outrageous rhetoric. He opens his mouth and seemingly random stuff comes out, yet his audience laps it all up. Why this happens is another conversation (go see Scott Adams' blog for neat views on this). Today, I have a suggestion that could help him. Not that he's listening to me, but never mind.

It's that 'great' thing. I am British, and kind of like that I live in Great Britain, not just Britain. Why? Because it makes me feel superior. Not that this little island is the superpower it once was, but the great name is still there and I can still pretend. There is a similar thing in America, where it's citizens like the feeling that it is the world's greatest place, and perhaps feel a little rankled that it isn't as great as it once was.

This cultural desire for greatness is what Trump taps into. It's a Republican theme in particular (hence their hawkish tendencies). So why not major on this? Talk not just about making America great again, but push beyond to 'the greatest'. Make this a key word. Adopt the strapline 'The Greatest America'. A bit arrogant, perhaps? Yet tapping into deep American feelings. Which is all very Trump.

And along with it all is the rubbing off of 'greatest' onto the man himself. Step aside Muhammed Ali, here comes Donald Trump!



For more, see the ChangingMinds Blog! Archive or the Blogs by subject. To comment on any blog, click on the blog either in the archive or in the column to the right.


Best wishes,



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