August 10, 2015Change behaviours
Holding two conflicting thoughts or beliefs at the same time can create a powerful drive for change
Cognitive Dissonance is the uncomfortable tension that comes from holding two conflicting thoughts or beliefs in your mind at the same time. The often given example is that people smoke even though they know it’s not good for them.
The level of dissonance you feel depends on:
- The importance of the subject to you.
- How strongly the thoughts conflict with one another.
- Your inability to rationalise and explain away the conflict.
Dissonance is most powerful when it relates to your self-image and especially intense when you do something that is at odds with what you believe about yourself.
Feeling foolish, immoral, dishonest, compromised, or similar personal responses, reflect dissonance at work. And includes internal projections in response to specific decision-making situations.
Because we desire relief from this tension, cognitive dissonance becomes a very powerful motivator for changing your conflicting thoughts or beliefs. This has a corresponding impact on behaviour with one of three typical actions being taken:
- The person changes their behaviour – typically the hardest action to take.
- They justify their behaviour by changing the conflicting cognition – new or more information might tip the balance between the conflicting thoughts and beliefs.
- They justify their behaviour by adding new cognition – the perceived importance of the conflict changes.
Recognising dissonance for what it is, and as a precursor to change, is a powerful tool. Not only does it signals someone’s comfort level around a particular decision or situation but it opens an opportunity to influence the scale and terms of the underlying conflict and the perceptions of the change impact. It should also influence your communication approaches and content!