An open and shut case: how the backfire effect closes minds

In the world today, we see conservative news programs where hosts shout down the opposing views of their guests. We see liberal audiences disrupting and walking out of auditoriums where more right-wing views are presented. We see online arguments that go on ad nauseam with each side getting more and more entrenched, even as legitimate counter-arguments are presented.

What is happening in these cases is the “backfire effect”. When evidence is presented which contradicts a deeply held belief, we do not change our viewpoint. On the contrary, we tend to become more entrenched and oppositional.

We can choose to respond differently, however.

Stephen Covey, the author of THE 7 HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE, tells us to, “Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.” This does not mean that we embrace the views of the other and forget our own. What normally happens when we follow this principle, is that when others feel listened to, they, in turn, become more open to our perspectives.

From here, we can understand and embrace what is good in both points of view, and even celebrate diversity. Covey refers to this as creating synergy. By sharing and brainstorming, we come up with the best possible solutions, where everyone feels respected and everyone wins.

If we become aware of our own tendency to react with the “backfire effect”, we can consciously move beyond it with an open mind.

The result will be a better way, one that embraces and celebrates our differences. More effort is required, but it is worth it. As Maya Angelou says, “In diversity there is beauty and there is strength.”

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