Have you ever been in a public spat and seen the red mist descend?

You’ve probably also thought about why people rarely change their minds in public. If so, you’ll relate to what I’m about to tell you.

I privately messaged a group of friends on LinkedIn my misgivings about something that mattered to the group. A number of them responded, largely with views different from mine. Even though these were my friends, I felt challenged.

I considered two scenarios at this point.

Scenario 1: I had had those exact same views but not shared them with the group, and I had subsequently come to know that my friends saw the issue differently.

Scenario 2: I had posted my views publicly (open to anyone) and then received pushback publicly.

What would my response have been in either situation?

It’s hard to say but, thankfully, I was able to find research on this, as captured in Robert Cialdini’s book Influence.

In a study where participants were made to commit publicly, privately, or not at all to their decision on a given topic, findings showed that by far it was those publicly committed who most steadfastly refused to shift positions in the face of disconfirming evidence.

The privately committed were more pliable, followed by those who had not committed at all–they were the most receptive to change.

This pattern shows itself in high-consequence situations like jury trials. Hung juries are more common with a public show of hands than with secret ballots.

Upon hearing my friends had a different take, my instinct was to stand my ground. After some thought I opened myself up to be swayed, though I’m not sure I would’ve been as obliging if pushed back publicly.

We’re our most resolute selves in public. And social media is the perfect vehicle for our public stubbornness. We’re not less tolerant but the public eye makes us stiffer necked. So what do we do?

This is what I’ve decided to try. I picked these up from Farnam Street.

Step 1: Convince myself of this deep inside. ‘There are a bunch of things I’m wrong about that I’m not yet aware of.’

Step 2: Remind myself of the benefits of correcting myself. ‘I would like to know about whatever it is I’m wrong about because that’ll help me make better decisions.’

You can learn persuasion skills and change other people’s minds. That is a skill. But if you want a superpower, you better be able to change your own mind.



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Satyajit Rout

Satyajit Rout


I write about decision-making, mental models, and better thinking and things in between