Graeme Newell

The Backfire Effect

They’re back, the misguided souls who delight in shoving poisonous things down their gullet. It’s a familiar little passion play: Tide Pods, cinnamon, and now “sleepy chicken.” Think of it as mutant KFC – narcotic chicken in a delightfully disgusting NyQuil marinade.

The script plays out the same way each time. Health authorities scream the dangers, which generates publicity, which encourages new contrarians to join in the self-destructive antics. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Brain science is clear. If you hope to persuade someone to stop doing something, CHALLENGING THEM isn’t the way to go. The BACKFIRE EFFECT teaches us that the best way to change someone’s mind is to covertly seed their brain with NON-THREATENING new ideas. Awaken even a whiff of condescension and you’ll be locked out.

So how exactly can you do this? Here are five tactics:

Build upon their current beliefs
Once a person believes something, they’ll do almost anything to protect that belief. Look for an opening that connects with values the person already holds dear.

Come at it sideways
Use metaphor and analogy to convey a story that aligns with their current beliefs. Making an argument invites confrontation, but telling a story engages the other person to join in the tale telling and to be less defensive.

Stop trying to win
You won’t change their mind. Change will only happen when they convince THEMSELVES. Your goal is to plant a tiny seed. Be a patient farmer, not an angry gladiator.

Park your emotions
Be an attentive, humble listener who’s genuinely curious about the other person’s vantage point. When you share, speak calmly of the values you both share.

Close the circle
Help the other person see that a new opinion doesn’t invalidate who they are. It’s actually an affirmation of a precious belief they already cherish.