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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 30-Dec-18


Sunday 30-December-18

The more it changes, the more it stays the same: the face of persuasion over the years and the enduring need for trust

It's the year's end and a time for reflection, so here's some thinking about how changing minds has changed, or not, over the years.

I've been writing in this website about changing minds, influence and persuasion for about sixteen years, and practicing it professionally for longer still. In the workplace I have been a teacher, a marketer, a manager and consultant. Even when I was a software engineer, I realized that changing minds was still an important part of my job, and it was in this role in the 1980s I adopted the engineering approach of deep research and pragmatic practice. And I am still learning, which is why I keep writing.

To live is to change minds, yet how this is done has changed over the years. The internet has been a significant influence in there, where the remoteness of the writer and the easiness of writing has led in some ways to cruder, crueller attempts to change minds, and in other cases influential action has become more subtle as the need to influence global markets has multiplied. Yet despite all these changes, the target, other people, have not changed that much. Certainly many of us have become wiser about attempts to persuade us and more skilful in changing minds (maybe both influenced by articles on this website). In the past year we have also seen international exposure of trolling attempts (and successes) of nations who seek to meddle in the politics of other nations, thereby changing the course of history (and not always for the better).

Intelligent influence is not that new. Aristotelian logic, for example was developed over 2000 years ago, by the Athenian Greeks, then refined by the Romans and many subsequent logicians and philosophers into an entire branch of argument. With the introduction of modern psychology, from James and Freud onwards, attention soon expanded from mental illness to commercial purposes. Wartime propaganda expanded significantly in the first half of the 20th century. Vance Packard's 'The Hidden Persuaders' caused much consternation in the 1950s as it outlined the extent of psychology being used in the adverts and marketing of the day. Newspapers have always tried to sell through garish headlines, a method that has translated into modern clickbait headlines that tempt readers into accessing potentially dodgy websites (or at least coercive advertising). Indeed, in many news websites you can hardly scroll without accidentally hitting an advert.

And yet people are still the same. We still are wary of persuasive attempts, perhaps more so with loss of the social capital that lets us trust strangers, which only leads to intensified persuasive attempts.

As we move into 2019, a critical issue for all of us will be trust. Trust is the social lubricant that lets us work with other people. It is an essential of politics yet has slipped in many countries around the world. We trust people who are reliable, honest and who care about us. And yet few of these seem to apply well to our politicians and business leaders, where personal interest and high remuneration often appears to be the primary driver (including paying off investing stakeholders).

As always, trust is the gateway to persuasion. If you want to be more persuasive, make a new year's resolution to be more trustworthy. And to do this, you should (a) be more reliable, including delivering on all promises, even it means promising less, (b) be honest even when it may disadvantage you, and (c) show positive, active care for other people. If you do this, people will be far more likely to listen to you and to accept your arguments.

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