Climate change, inequality, pandemics.
These are all human problems. We created them. And we have the power to change them. But to change them, some people have to change their minds. Those that are causing the problems — or denying that they exist — must change, and everyone else must help them to change.
But we have a lot of trouble with this. For the most part, we’re not helping other people to change their minds. We’re judging them, shaming them, and arguing with them. Just spend a few minutes on Twitter and you’ll see what I mean.
Climate change, inequality, and pandemics are not the greatest threats to our future. The greatest threat to our future is the thing that causes division, polarization, and the inability to address these issues together: poor communication.
These Are Human Issues
These issues are human issues. They’re not inevitable. We created them. But to fix them we’ve got to understand the human dynamic that perpetuates them.
Some people don’t think these things are problems. And addressing these people head-on with facts won’t change their minds. Why? Because most of us are just not that interested in facts. And when we’re challenged head-on with something we protect ourselves, double down, and plant our feet even more firmly.
This is true in war. When you seek to solve terrorism by bombing cities where terrorists live, you end up angering people and creating more enemies — even out of people who themselves wouldn’t traditionally support ‘terrorists’. And the same goes for politics — if you challenge someone’s politics head-on, you’ll often just create a more ardent believer.
Stories Trump Facts
The stories we tell ourselves are the filters with which we sift through fact and fiction. If I’ve decided that the world’s most educated scientists are all part of a nefarious plan to take over the world, then I won’t care which of their “facts” you quote to me. I simply don’t trust them.
Equally, if I’ve decided that inequality is caused by A and A alone and that everyone else is trying to ignore that truth, then I’m not likely to accept new information that tells me that inequality is actually caused by a complex mix of A, B, C, and D.
Facts rarely change people’s minds. However, most of what we do is disagree about whose facts are the most factual facts. Don’t get me wrong. I believe in facts. I just know that when it comes to changing people’s minds, facts don’t matter as much as we think.
These Issues Are Made Worse by Poor Communication
Climate change, inequality, and pandemics are bad. But they’re made worse by poor communication. What is poor communication? Its…
- trying to convince other people to change their minds.
- seeking to argue your ideas first.
- questioning the other person’s ideas.
These things create polarization. Polarization is not inevitable. The polarization in the United States was manufactured by the populace. And this polarization is what cements these issues into existence and makes them grow.
For example, instead of working to reverse climate change, we’re now busy convincing people who feel it’s a hoax to stop actively — and sometimes intentionally — from making it worse. Instead of working to flatten the curve of this pandemic, we’re busy convincing people to wear a mask and stop — sometimes intentionally — making it worse. And the same goes for inequality. By creating polarization with our poor communication, we’ve caused people to double down on their crazy, life-threatening ideas.
But we didn’t need to be in this position in the first place. These issues could have been much simpler if we used good communication skills.
These Issues Could Be Fixed With Good Communication
We’re always going to have threats to our world. But poor communication — made worse by the viral nature of social media — has made the threats we face more and more polarizing. What should be issues that we all come together to solve to save our planet and it’s people, have become issues that we separate over, argue about, and build divisive subcultures around.
But I don’t blame the people that think climate change is a hoax, systemic inequality is a liberal lie, and the pandemic is manufactured. Don’t get me wrong, I think we’re all responsible for our beliefs and actions, but I don’t blame them for getting us to this terrible point in all three of these issues. No, I blame us. Those that believe these things are serious issues but who cause others to double down on their harmful beliefs with our poor communication.
We have the power to change things with the way we communicate. But it’s not easy. It takes patience and security.
3 Ways to Improve Your Communication
- Stop trying to convince people. This is our #1 problem. No one wants to be convinced. We’re proud and we’re much more likely to change our own mind than we are to let someone else change it for us. This just doesn’t happen that often, and yet this is often what we’re trying to do. It may be difficult, but stop doing this. It doesn’t work anyway. It only causes the person to feel unsafe and start protecting their ideas and identity.
- Seek to understand. Give up your ego’s desire to get your point across. Instead, make it your one and only aim to understand what it is that they believe and why they believe it. Seek to have your own mind changed — even if their belief seems crazy or racist. This will help the person feel safe and heard — and that is the prerequisite to them changing their mind.
- Help them question themselves. If you question them, they’ll become defensive and retreat. But if you lead with curiosity, you can create an environment in which they will question their own beliefs. In “This Is How To Change Someone’s Mind,” Eric Barker provides a little exercise for doing this:
“YOU: “On a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being no confidence and 10 being absolute confidence, how confident are you that belief is true?”
THEM: “I’m at an 8.”
YOU: “Just out of curiosity, why didn’t you say 9?
Now they’ll start making a case against their own beliefs, a case that they find at least somewhat compelling. Smile. They’re handing you a treasure map.”
The Final Word
The polarization we’re experiencing is not inevitable. Every time we communicate with someone about these issues we have a choice. We can either work to understand and create an environment that is conducive to them changing their ideas, or we can argue and further ingrain what they believe.
“Be a partner, not an adversary: If you’re trying to win, you’re going to lose.” -Eric Barker
You might feel annoyed by this. Like you shouldn’t have to be the one to work so hard and be patient with people who believe crazy, hateful things. But this is what leadership is about. It’s understanding people, working with them at their level, and helping them to change in the way that works.
And that’s what this is about. It’s about doing what works — not what’s fair or easy.
If we created a movement of good communication, we could significantly lessen the polarization that’s choking our culture and make real forward motion on climate change, inequality, and this global pandemic.
Things are not too far gone. There’s hope for the future. But it includes patience and good communication.