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3 Ways to Change Your Audience’s Perceptions

Convincing an audience of something is at the core of a corporate communicator's job; it pays to start by understanding what leads people to hold a certain perception in the first place

Whether it’s employees, customers, investors, or a board of directors, one of the hardest and most important tasks for a corporate communicator is to change people’s minds. Whether it’s about an industry issue, company attribute, or emerging trend, important business goals can depend on how a critical group of people view a topic.

This is why it’s so important for communicators to understand the way their audience thinks. And to change the way that audience thinks, a good corporate communication strategy should challenge the audience’s “mental models” – the beliefs and associations that (often subconsciously) make up and support stated perceptions.

Fixing Flaws Gives You Something to Build On

The best way to challenge these mental models is to understand that they are often flawed in one or more of three ways. A communicator’s job is to find the flaws and fix them. As an example, imagine someone whose stated perception is: “I am in good physical health.” They may be wrong about this for three reasons.

  1. Incorrect drivers: They may have overlooked or misunderstood what the main cause of good health are.

    “I knew that healthy blood pressure levels and weight were drivers of good health, but had no idea that cholesterol mattered.”

  2. Incorrect associations: They may understand what constitutes good health but their understanding of the relative importance of those causes or the relationships between them is incorrect.

    “I mistakenly thought that weight was much more important than blood pressure or cholesterol levels.”

  3. Incorrect inputs: The causes and relationships between them may be correct, but the facts they use within that framework are incorrect.

    “I know that blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight all influence health. I thought my blood pressure was healthy but it’s not.”

To get started on finding and fixing those flaws, ask yourself questions like:

  1. Are any drivers missing or wrong?
  2. Are any inputs or associations wrong?
  3. Which flaw is the biggest obstacle to members of my target audience adopting the perception I would like them to take on?

 

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One Response

  • This post is a wonderfully simple outline of systems thinking. I cannot overstate the value of evaluating the personal and professional processes around you with a model like this.

    I would like to add two points:

    First, to properly execute the formula in the article, you must have an accurate understanding of the system yourself. You cannot correct someone else’s navigation with your own broken compass.

    Second, when you identify the obstacles as outlined in the third question at the end of the article, don’t just focus on the biggest. Prioritize the obstacles by the amount of leverage you have to overcome or reduce the obstacle. Confront mental obstacles with the same fundamentals of physics with which you confront physical ones (get creative with your pulleys and levers).

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