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Changing minds

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Published: 8 Jul 2024

How entrenched can we become in our own way of thinking? Ryan Renard CQP MCQI, SQMS Manager at Ontic, looks at how quality professionals can change minds – including their own.

Changing our mind is a privilege we all have, yet it is one that we don’t often choose to use.

It is human nature to become defensive when challenged, getting more affirmed in our belief when facts and figures are presented to us in an attempt to persuade. This is not aided by our selective nature when approached with new information – we get what we are looking for and will often search for evidence, opinions and groups that support our existing thoughts and beliefs.

Fixed mindsets can be the result of status games, where actions, behaviours and thinking are supported by the perceived result or desire for high status, particularly within defined groups or existing cultures. We can see this through a number of historical examples in extreme politics and cults, though our more modern examples are found in conspiracy theorists constructing elaborate explanations to bridge ever more expansive gaps in their logic and reasoning.

“People who appear brainwashed have invested too much of their identity in a single game,” Will Storr, writer of The Status Game, states. “If the game fails, or they are expelled, their identify – their very self – can disintegrate.”

It is no wonder people spend significant amounts of time, energy and money working to prove the value and legitimacy of their status – our choices represent us.

"Changing our mind is a skill, and one that atrophies without use."

Ryan Renard CQP MCQI, SQMS Manager, Ontic

We are all playing status games, consciously or not. Businesses and their associated cultures fail to change and capitalise because of fixed mindsets. We, too, are guilty of this in quality, developing copious tomes and novels, complex statistical analysis and additional standards upon standards – and then wondering why people are not inspired by the value offered by quality.

As the salespeople of quality and its representatives, we need to learn how to change the minds of others and, to a much more important degree, our own. We cannot know as much as everyone in the room, nor can we become specialists in every area. It is our receptive nature that is key to facilitating customer, regulatory, standards, business, department and employee requirements.

The nine-step model

In his book How Minds Change, David McRaney presents a nine-step model. The aim of this model is not to change minds through statistics, facts, evidence and analysis. As described earlier, these push people further into their entrenched thinking. The aim is to make the person question their own thinking by causing some areas of doubt in their personal assurance.

Step 1: Establish rapport.

Step 2: Ask them for a claim.

Step 3: Confirm you understand the claim.

Step 4: Clarify the definitions of any terms you will be discussing.

Step 5: Identify a confidence level.

Step 6: Identify how they chose that confidence level.

Step 7: Ask what method they use to judge the quality of their reasoning.

Step 8: Listen, summarise, and repeat.

Step 9: Suggest continuing the conversation later.

The key element here is creating a questioning state of the person’s convictions, to enable them to generate the potential to change their own mind and ways of thinking. To have any open and honest conversation, we must first develop a rapport; lack of response is only ever a symptom of bad rapport.

From here, you can ask, understand and clarify the topic of discussion before asking for a level of confidence – 1-10 is what is proposed. Next, ask them to define how they have arrived at this confidence level and confirm it with them before agreeing to continue that conversation another time.

It is essential to focus on relatable and personable experiences to bring the confidence level into question. Our own experiences are the most convincing – any universal statements or quantifiers, such as ‘all/every/never’, will have some exception.

Why is this important for quality?

“We cannot solve our problems,” said Einstein, “with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

This means that our thinking needs to change, or someone else’s thinking needs to take priority over our own. As humans, we tend to struggle with the latter, though some may appeal to authority or be less sure of their own thinking. This means we need a method to passively change the fixed states of others and, critically, ourselves.

One of the ‘Dirty Dozen’ in human factors (the 12 causes) is cultural ‘norms’. These are represented by the often-infuriating statement: ‘That's the way we have always done it.’

This statement comes in many different guises, though its effects are the same – stagnation, and a rigid upholding of the current order. Within quality, we are equally guilty of embodying this human factor, remaining entrenched in our thinking based in historical application, industry best practice, standards, and regulations. So much so that we often lose sight of our end goals of providing a safe and quality product that meets the customer needs and business goals and strategies.

Our favourite places to hide are in our self-righteous vision as the consciences of businesses, the paradigms of compliance, or the people with the answers.

Increasing our skills to change

“It’s my mind,” comedian Billy Connolly quipped, “and I reserve the right to change it as often as I like.”

Changing our mind is a skill, and one that atrophies without use. In much the same way as we struggle to learn later in life, after leaving school, we also become more likely to develop fixed mindsets as we age and collect more and more evidence that our way is the ‘right’ way.

The model provided by McRaney in How Minds Change provides us with a quick and easy method to unstick others’ mindsets, as well as our own.

Open minds are open to possibilities, solutions – and opportunities.

Read more from Ryan

How can auditors ensure that their work is a meaningful and positive experience for the auditee? IRCA Principal Auditor Ryan Renard CQP MCQI takes a closer look.

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