Coaching: How to change hearts and minds
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Coaching: How to change hearts and minds

Let’s imagine you’re coaching your most hard-nosed, skeptical salesperson, and you have to convince her that what she thinks she knows ain’t really so.

She’s absolutely convinced, say, that the more sales calls she makes, the more business she writes. You’ve run the numbers and they tell a different story. When salespeople make too many sales calls, they end up getting a lot of small orders and end up with less money.

So how are you going to convince your salesperson to, shall we way, reconsider her position? Should you:

Give her a spreadsheet showing that the more calls salespeople make, the less revenue they bring in?

Put that same information in a chart?

Or butter her up a bit, praising her open-mindedness and fairness, and then try to convince her?

The answer: The chart.

Researchers at Dartmouth University did an experiment along these lines, although they intentionally tackled an even tougher challenge: Getting people to accept facts that contradict their political beliefs. They set out to convince a group of die-hard liberals that President George W. Bush’s “surge” strategy in Iraq actually succeeded in reducing violent attacks. And they tried to convince conservative voters that the economy actually improved in President Obama’s first year in office.

As you might expect, they got a lot of pushback from both groups, facts on the ground notwithstanding.

So why did a chart prove to be the most effective way to get people to reconsider?

Seeing is believing
Neuroscience suggests that it’s because visuals are the brain’s native language. Far more of the brain’s processing power is devoted to visual input than to language. We learn visual information more quickly and retain it longer. What’s more, the researchers concluded, we’re more likely to perceive visual information as “true.”

Verbal and written data, by contrast, is more likely to be perceived as, literally, debatable. They’re processed by part of the brain that governs the give and take of a conversation or argument, so the brain starts crafting a counterargument in response: Yes, violence might have gone down in some areas, but probably went up in others. Or yes, the economy grew, but what about profits or wages?

When you see a chart, by contrast, those types of arguments tend not to surface. Seeing is believing, as they say.

Sales managers, like salespeople, tend to be talkers, and it’s easy to fall back on your gift of gab to try to get through to your people. But keep in mind that your salespeople are pretty good with words too (after all, you trained them to be!). So don’t be surprised if your message gets lost in a verbal tug of war.

Instead, use graphics to make your point. You may find you get a lot less pushback and a lot more agreement.

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