How To Get People To Change (By Encouraging Them Not To)

People don’t like change. That’s a generalized statement, of course, but the behavioral science makes clear that change is hard for many people, who tend to stick with familiar but imperfect behaviors rather than cultivate unfamiliar but better ones.

So what should you do if you’re addressing a group of people who resist change? One of the best strategies is to convince them that nothing has changed.

As an example, I once worked with a woman who regularly presented her company’s social media strategy to her corporate board of directors, a group consisting primarily of older, wealthy men who aren’t engaged in social networks.

They didn’t care much about Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and tended to dismiss those social networks as something the younger generation used. Every time she presented to them, she felt they didn’t appreciate her work or its value to the company. She was frustrated.
Image of two young businessmen using touchpad at meeting
I suggested that the best way to convince her board of the value of her work was by stating that it is exactly the same thing they’ve always done. Here’s what we came up with for her open:

“Many people regard social media as something that’s new and exciting. I do believe it’s exciting, but it’s definitely not new. Social media—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social networking sites—are actually doing something quite old. What they do is almost exactly the same thing that the marketing and PR shops in your own companies were doing 10, 25, 50, and in some cases, even 100 years ago.

The goal has always been the same: Reach our customers where they are.

If your customers read The New York Times, you’d advertise in the Times or try to get a story written about your company in it. If they listened to local radio in Topeka, you’d run an ad in Topeka. If you were trying to reach travelers, you might have called the editor of an in-flight magazine.

Social media is exactly the same. We’re trying to reach people who are interested in our brand where they are. The names have changed: Instead of reaching people primarily through daily newspapers, many of which have collapsed, we’re reaching them more often today through Twitter and Instagram. But the goal is exactly the same as it’s always been: reach them where they are. And that’s why your input and marketing expertise remains as essential as ever.”

By beginning her presentation that way, she removed her audience’s fear of change from the equation. She was able to draw a straight line from the familiar (newspapers) to the less familiar (Twitter), allowing the board to invest energy in the topic even though they weren’t specifically knowledgeable about social media.

As a result, I’m betting her board will view her as someone doing important work and adding value to the company—even if they don’t quite understand all of the details.

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