May 2018

Linguistics – Managing change resistance with Jedi mind tricks – Part 2

If you’d like to read the first part of this series, check out the blog entry below…

Change Jedi’s – Managing change resistance with Jedi mind tricks


So you’re about to start writing your change communications. You’re looking at writing emails, print media and digital pieces, all with one aim in mind – getting users on board. The old adage, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” comes to mind here. But what if you could convince the horse to WANT to drink, and what’s more, have it not notice you doing the convincing?

Change managers must perform significant work from the start to ensure that users absorb and understand messages and consider new ways of working. This requires the implementation of a series of deliberate but subtle steps to recast employees’ views and encourage action. This reshaping process must be dynamically managed during the early months of a change management plan, when uncertainty is high and setbacks are avoidable.

Back to the hopefully thirsty horse. There are a number of linguistic tricks we can use when writing communications to employees and users to influence their views and persuade them into action. Grab a cup of tea and spend 10 minutes reading my summary of the following linguistic techniques.


Linguistic Presuppositions of Awareness

You can recognise ‘presuppositions of awareness’ with words like notice, aware, realise, understand, experience, among others.

Are you aware of how much easier your life will be when you learn to use the new technology?

Notice how this example forces you to bring your awareness to what I want you to believe. I’m not asking you if your life will be easier after learning how to use the new technology. I’m asking you if you’re aware of how much easier your life will be after learning how to use the new technology. Whether you say “Yes, I’m aware” or “No, I wasn’t aware of that,” you’ve accepted the underlying statement “your life will be easier after learning how to use the new technology.”


Adverb and Adjective Linguistic Presuppositions

Adverbs modify verbs. Adverbs are usually words ending in -ly.

You’ll quickly learn to use the new technology.

You’ll easily be proficient in the technology now.

How do adjectives and adverbs work for persuasion?   Suppose you disagree with the adjective or adverb in the example (“I won’t learn the technology quickly”), you’ve still taken on what I want you to believe, that “you’ll learn the technology”.

The intent here is to change the focus from the verb/noun to the modifier and presupposes that noun/verb WILL happen and bypasses any conscious resistance.


Cause & Effect Presuppositions

You can detect these in sentences where A causes B. You can replace ‘causes’ with: because, forces, allows, makes, and other words implying a cause/effect relationship between parts.

Reading these examples will cause you to notice their use everywhere.

Because you’re smart, you’ll notice the different ways you can write a cause and effect sentence.

Anything can cause something else (when you set it up properly). In the examples, for the ‘cause’, I used “reading the examples,” and “you’re smart.” Would you have considered questioning how reading or you being smart had anything to do with the effect? Probably not. And if you did, it’s because the sentences are alone and not used in a specific context.


Time and Ordinal Linguistic Presuppositions

Time and ordinal are slightly different but use many similar words in their use. You can identify these with words like: Before, during, after, later, first, second, last, etc.

After you sign up for training sessions you’ll get receive access to specialised user guides, hints and tricks.

You can finish reading this article before you sign up for training.

The second thing you’ll do after registering is read more about the new technology.

These all assume an action occurred before, during, or after the event mentioned. In the last example, I mention the second thing you’ll do after signing up. This assumes you’re going to sign up and do the first.


The Exclusive/Inclusive “Or” Linguistic Presupposition

Will you sign up now or after you read the rest of this article?

Do you understand how powerful presuppositions can be or are you merely beginning to realise their power in persuasion?

This is a wonderfully sneaky way to let your user think they are making a choice when they are not.  Often referred to a double blind, this is more like a conversational hypnosis technique. From your point of view, you are giving the person two choices, where either gives you your outcome. With either ‘choice’, they are agreeing to what you want them to do.

Setting communication up with an illusion of choice increases cooperation.

I often use this technique with my children. (Do you want to go to bed at 8.15 or 8.30?).  Between you and I, sometimes I use it with my husband too. Shhhh

This may seem a little like Jedi mind control. However, it’s not a quick and easy fix.  You won’t change someone’s opinion with just one sentence.  If you did, it’s only because that single sentence came as part of a well thought out and impeccably implemented change communication plan.

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