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How to help those who keep rawing against A user's guide

Pneurama’s Ten Commandments

Franco Marzo Coaching & business development

My father always said…

Changing people’s minds is almost impossible. Especially if we are talking about “chief world systems”: values, principles, religions and political beliefs and ways of life. On these issues there is little anyone can do, these become part of us during infancy and produce automatic responses that are difficult to get rid of. On the other hand, childhood is the most delicate period for the "human mammal" exposed to surrounding dangers and threats. Therefore, we are "grateful" for everything that has helped us "survive", and we do so instinctively. We believe in "those things and those people" without even realizing it: "my mother used to say: keep in mind that everyone’s out to get you!; "My father used to say better an egg today than a hen tomorrow"; "My grandfather always did what he said". These (true) phrases, proverbs, ways of thinking can affect one’s life (for better or for worse) and it is very difficult to change your mind later.


Leaders can discern

True leaders however, know how to distance themselves from these "automatic responses", they are able to recognize emotions and evaluate whether they are functional or not in view of their goals. Becoming adults means overcoming the instinctive dimension and learning to think in terms of what is useful and beneficial. In an essay, Patricia Churchland * emphasizes the most important natural gift in all mammals: the ability to learn. To make the point, she mentioned the example of a female fox that teaches her cubs the art of hunting. When facing a potential prey a fox learns to proceed slowly and to “stand still" until the prey is reachable with a sudden leap. The cubs, on the other hand, fling themselves on the prey, which will almost inevitably run away. Their training consists in learning to dominate their instincts and emotions. If foxes are able to do it, so should we.

Therefore, in order to change someone's mind, it is necessary to create a comfort zone in which emotional drives are eliminated (no prey or predator in sight).

At this stage it is now possible to rationalize:

1.          what is the goal? First, identify it and write date and time on paper;

2.         what kind of behaviours can affect the outcome? Make a list of functional and dysfunctional behaviours.

3.         what would happen if things carry on the same way? Detect advantages and disadvantages, pros and cons.

4.         are you more into wanting to be right or reaching your goals? What do you really want?

Another great ability mammals have is to exercise "self-control" forsaking an “immediate pleasure” to obtain a "bigger one" later. You might not believe it, but even mice understand the value of giving up "an egg today for a hen tomorrow", and this too is due to learning. In an experiment conducted in Cambridge in the laboratory of Trevor Robbins ** rats have two options: pressing a specific button with the nose will get them a croquette right away, or pressing another button will get them four croquettes after waiting patiently for a minute. Here too, the "mammal" learns to wait: somenfor only 10 seconds, others, more “rational” for 60 seconds. But how is this done? Well, thanks to the left and right hemispheres of our brain we are able to "predict what will happen if ...". When we talk about planning, this is precisely what we are talking about, the ability to imagine a series of actions and consequences that separates us from our goal, a new market, greater profit, a new customer, etc. Even in this case emotions can play bad tricks on us. Some simply “fail to believe and never will”, while others need to be guided through rational thinking:

1.         if we keep on doing what we have always done the results will likely be the same. What can we improve? What can we change?

2.         what obstacles are we likely to encounter? Try to think of them one by one.

3.         how can we avoid them or minimize their impact? Make a list of actions or, if you prefer, a plan B. 

Just bear in mind that any rational process will last as long as we remain in our “comfort zone”. As soon as "disturbances" appear, then our brain falls back to the primary instincts learned during childhood: fear, anger, euphoria, renunciation, etc ...



How do we get out of this emotional quagmire? First, maintain a peaceful and constructive environment, free from any “disturbance”. Never talk about "problems", but “challenges to be faced” or "opportunities for a change". "Problems" create anxiety by definition. That is where leaders play a fundamental role, creating a “business environment” through the example they give, the things they say, the emotions they transmit. If they allow themselves to be disrupted, then the environment is compromised. If they keep a cool head, but fail to get along with their collaborators, the result is the same: "disturbance". For this reason, it would be useful to periodically “tune up” all the players involved with moments of sharing values, visions, challenges, objectives and corporate identity.

To guarantee the maximum harmony in a business some schools of thought strongly suggest to hire managers who already share your company values (if these are well established). No point in hiring an "emotional" manager if the company is founded on "control" and rational thinking. “Passionate” workers will hardly share the prudent and conservative strategy of a bank or insurance company, while they can infuse enthusiasm to a sales network or an innovative company.


The trick

And finally, after all the efforts made, what if someone keeps rowing in the opposite direction? The "worst" among them are the so-called “saviours”, those who firmly believe they are doing what is best for the company. In this case common sense and ability to listen are crucial, to understand if emotion or intellect is prevailing, but there are some little tricks that can be useful. When I was a prancing and passionate young man, together with a colleague, we wanted to change the company's strategy, which we considered ineffective. The General Manager called us in his office to listen to us and look at us straight in the eyes. It was quite amazing, he provoked us in a thousand ways. At times he even seemed quite childish, and kept repeating: "why? Why not? and how do you know? How many times? How much will that earn us? And if it does not work? "I remember that meeting like a real " torture". After “hours” of questioning he greeted us and left us exhausted and incredulous: what was he getting at? After a few days a diploma in parchment paper arrived at home. It was called "Torture test": we had passed it. He changed his mind. He accepted our ideas, but before that he had played with our emotions, he "tortured" us, he wanted to discern if beyond our exuberance and passion, we had any clear ideas, whether we were rationally prepared. We never questioned ourselves on the possible negative outcome of that test, that might have spelt doom for us both.

Getting people to change their mind is close to impossible, yet at times it can happen.

Just as helping some who raw in the opposite direction to change their thinking:


1.         understanding: changing your mind can prove difficult, since the things you really believe in "saved your life", you cannot "betray" them;

2.         rationalize: to change your mind you need to see, list and touch the advantages;

3.         be reassuring: a rational mind needs an environment that favours positive thinking against emotions;

4.         harmonize: to create a serene climate we must "tune" the first line. Any orchestra, even the best, needs to periodically tune up its "instruments" and "musicians";

5.         prevention: it is easier to change the mind of those who share your values and your identity. Keep it in mind when you hire someone;

6.         play: getting involved means imagining that people can be right and listen to them ... if you later find out that they cheat or make fun of you then have no mercy;

7.         Be welcoming: if you want others to change their mind you must be ready to do so  yourself.


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