Next in the series Speaker Academy, which started here.
After a day off for Trevor Torres’s Q&A on selling, we resume with the third of Randi Oster’s takeaways from our phone conversation.
Randi’s an experienced business person with speaking experience, so her #3 observation is not necessarily what a newbie would prioritize. But it’s an important point, as you’ll see. I’ve heavily edited Randi’s notes. Randi, thank you for your work; your words per se aren’t here, but this lesson exists because of your work:
Competent patients can cause cognitive dissonance. The speaker must deal with it.
“Cognitive dissonance” is a geeky psychological term; all you really need to know is this:
- “Cognitive” is about how people experience life: what they see and how they interpret it.
- “Dissonance” is when it seems two things couldn’t possibly belong together, or are uncomfortable together.
- When people see something with their own eyes
that simply isn’t possible given everything they believe,
or if it puts them in an unsolvable bind,
that’s cognitive dissonance.
- It’s uncomfortable – as uncomfortable as two musical notes that don’t belong together.
- People do something to relieve the tension. (More on this in a moment.)
In my talks about patients as partners, the most common cognitive dissonance I’ve encountered is:
Medical training is important
and really hard,
and we patients haven’t had it.
So how could we know anything useful?
(Don’t argue with me about this; it’s what I’ve seen, and this is a free course – you don’t have to agree.:-))
And as I said a moment ago, here’s the thing to realize:
Tension seeks resolution.
It’s a universal truth: in music, psychology, and elsewhere, tension wants to be resolved. This is important to understand because when your message conflicts with people’s beliefs, they will be involuntarily driven to do something about it, and “something” may be to reject you and your message because you make no sense.
It’s your job to deal with this – to make sense in your audience’s world.
Wikipedia lists three common ways people resolve this tension:
- Alter existing cognitions [Change their view, their beliefs]
- Add new [cognitions] to create a consistent belief system [Add additional information]
- Reduce the importance of any one of the dissonant elements [Decide something’s not important after all.]
#3 is in Aesop’s Fables: the fox wanted some grapes but couldn’t get them. Uncomfortable, he resolved the tension by deciding, “They were probably sour anyway.” (He reduced the tension by diminishing one of his feelings.)
#1 is really, really hard – getting people to change what they believe in. (When’s the last time you changed a belief?)
#2 is my usual approach: to add new information that explains the conflict, so they understand things without having to reject what they’ve built their career on.
When you succeed at that, people have genuinely learned something. You’ve rocked their world.
And here’s why you have to do this:
If you say something that makes no sense to the audience,
and you don’t resolve it via #2,
they’ll do a special #3 on you (“reduce the importance of one of the conflicting beliefs”):
they’ll reduce the tension by saying “Ridiculous” or “BS” (out loud or to themselves)
and they’ll tune you out.*
When that happens, your goose is cooked.
Your takeaway from this lesson:
If you want to change things,
it’s your job to present your thoughts
in a way that realizes and respects the audience’s views
and gives people a new way of looking at things
so the dissonance is relieved
and things make sense in a new way.
If you can reduce the dissonance – the tension between their view and your new ideas – then not only have you been genuinely persuasive, they come away with a new view of life. And boy is that valuable; how many speeches have you ever heard that produce that result?
Later on we’ll get into the specific facts I introduce in almost every speech that add to the audience’s current view. But it’d be useless to introduce that before you understand why it’s important.
* At MIT I knew a physics major who couldn’t tolerate the news that sometimes light acts like a wave of energy, and sometimes it acts like a particle that smacks into things. One of his beliefs was “things are one thing or another – not both”; then a new cognition came along – “Sorry, kid, light is both.” Know what he did? He quit physics. Couldn’t stand the tension, and changed his major.