Nobody likes to be pushed, cell phone edition

re: cell phones in the classroom (including my own resistance to collecting them) I like this analogy:

When trying to change minds, organizations or even the world, we often default to a particular approach: pushing. …

The intuition behind this approach comes from physics. If you’re trying to move a chair, for example, pushing usually works. Push it in one direction and it tends to go that way. Unfortunately, people and organizations aren’t like chairs; they often push back. Instead, it helps to look to chemistry, where there’s a proven way to make change happen fast: Add a catalyst.

Catalysts convert air into fertilizer and petroleum into bike helmets. But most intriguing is the way they generate change. Instead of adding heat or pressure, they provide an alternate route, reducing the amount of energy required for reactions to occur. Rather than pushing, they remove barriers.

This approach is equally powerful in the social world. I’ve spent over 20 years studying the science of change…. I’ve learned from superstar salespeople how they converted customers, from a hostage negotiator how he got hostage-takers to surrender by understanding what they sought to accomplish, and even from a Jewish clergyman who helped a white supremacist renounce the KKK.

Again and again, the same approaches emerged. Instead of giving people more facts, figures or reasons, smart change agents find the hidden obstacles preventing change and mitigate them. Instead of asking what might convince someone to change, catalysts start with more basic questions: Why haven’t they changed already? What’s stopping them?


Reduce reactance. ….When we try to get them to do something, [people] feel disempowered…. So they say no or do something else, even when they might have originally been happy to go along. Psychologists call this negative response “reactance.”

Decades of consumer behavior research shows that people have an innate anti-persuasion radar. They’re constantly scanning the environment for attempts to influence them, and when they detect one, they deploy a set of countermeasures.

To avoid getting shot down, allow for agency. Guide the path but make sure people feel like they’re still in control. Smart consultants do this when presenting work to clients. If you share just one solution, the clients spend the meeting trying to poke holes in it. To shift this mind-set, good presenters often share multiple options. That way, rather than focusing on flaws, the clients focus on which option they prefer, which makes them much more likely to support moving forward.

2/21/2020 – How to Change Anyone’s Mind by Jonah Berger | WSJ

My mother always used to say “I can be led, but don’t push me.”

Apparently everyone feels that way.

(“Allowing for agency” is the principle I ended up using for collecting cell phones — will get to that shortly.)

And see:
Cell phone agonistes

2 thoughts on “Nobody likes to be pushed, cell phone edition

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