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To Change Minds, Tap Into Deeply Held Values

Sometimes we need to be reminded of our deeply held values, in order to make the right decisions.

Sometimes we need to be reminded of our deeply held values, in order to make the right decisions. Our innate sense of fairness and justice is one of those values.

Below I share an example on getting buy-in, by tapping into people’s deeply held values, from my book, Executive Presence:

Imagine you’re a lawyer representing a family whose child died because of a product defect. The company on trial had been aware of the faulty product for some time but decided against a recall because it would cost $3 million.

And that is the amount you’re requesting in compensatory damages. You know how difficult it is to put a price on a child’s life, but you figure a jury would see the logic of compensating the bereaved parents at least the amount that the defendant company tried to save by keeping its flawed product on the market. The company’s attorney argues that $3 million is too much, at which point you address the jury with a rhetorical question:

“What is a child’s life worth in our community?”

And that’s when you put it all into a real-life context.

You may point out, for example, that the annual compensation of the defendant’s CEO exceeds $7 million and that you have no doubt he’s worth every penny. You may show the jury a government spending report that NASA provided $15 million in grant money to a golfing equipment manufacturer so it could see how its golf clubs perform in space. You may also show the jury a story about an auction at which a Picasso sold for $179 million, and another about the loser of a recent heavyweight prizefight getting a guaranteed payout of $100 million. “All these amounts were fairly valued, I’m sure,” you tell the jury. And then you ask again, “So what is a child’s life worth in our community?” after which you add, “That’s your call to make.”

This strategy may or may not work, but by putting your request into a real-life context, you’re doing two things: (1) giving your listeners the opportunity to mentally step outside the situation at hand and see the proverbial forest instead of the trees, while also (2) tapping into their personal value system, where decisions are mapped onto principles that are deeply important to them. If buy-in is about alignment with one’s beliefs and values, then it is people’s core values that you need to evoke with context in order to get it.

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