They’re wrong! Why can’t they see it?

You have some useful — perhaps even life-changing information — you’re presenting to prospects. Perhaps they’re ideas they have never thought of before when it comes to mitigating future risks. After you’re done, you not only don’t hear gasps of amazement, you hear nothing but, “No thanks.” What just happened could have to do with brain science.

Whenever people (even you!) are faced with new information, they use it to only slightly refine but not completely rethink their existing beliefs. Rarely do we assume new data means our existing beliefs might actually be wrong.

As frustrating as this can be, it’s simply how our brains work. Brains are Bayesian inference machines. Bayesian logic is a specific, formulaic method that provides a disciplined way of combining new evidence with prior information. Our brains tend to make only incremental and minimal adjustments to existing beliefs. We’ll make the least possible change in our thinking to account for new data.

Adjusting to how our brains work

To account for this, when working to bring clients or staff to a different way of thinking, present new information incrementally. Show them along each step of the way how this change may be more like an expansion of their existing beliefs than a brand new belief.

For example, if a prospect doesn’t believe in life insurance, don’t expect them to quickly dissolve their long-held assumptions — even if you deluge them with charts, facts and figures. This may only cause them to tune you out. Instead, start with what they do believe in, such as their spouse and children having the ability to stay in the family home, even if the prospect should die before the children are independent adults.

What beliefs are the deepest?

The more experience one has in a subject, the more of these existing assumptions they have about it. They’re likely not even aware of all these embedded assumptions. These beliefs are so ingrained in their thinking that it wouldn’t occur to them to question them. They are presumed to be facts. This is why questions can help guide others to look at these mostly subconscious assumptions.

Given that our human tendency is to retain existing mental models, you need to consciously be doing things to help you, your staff and your clients break out of this natural limitation on new thinking. And remember for yourself, your brain will subconsciously limit your thinking in ways you’re not aware of unless you consciously and actively manage it.

Susan Robertson empowers individuals, teams and organizations to more nimbly adapt to change by transforming thinking from “why we can’t” to “how might we?” She is a creative thinking expert with over 20 years of experience speaking and coaching in Fortune 500 companies. As an instructor on applied creativity at Harvard, Robertson brings a scientific foundation to enhancing human creativity. To learn more, visit  

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