Just the facts, Ma'am

I don’t need to do anything except give them the facts.

As I’ve been talking about the concepts in my book and my newsletter, one of the responses I get is “I don’t need to do that because all I do is the give them the facts.” This reflects the belief that facts persuade. That sounds so reasonable, doesn’t it?

A related comment on this topic derives from the statistic that people with more education react differently once they have it. So, some say that all we need to do is to increase education, that things will change over time as more people go to college.   

A third related idea I’ve heard mentioned is that certain voters voted against their self-interest. If we can give them the facts so they see how their vote hurt them, then surely they’ll change their mind, right?

Unfortunately, giving facts doesn’t work. You might be surprised to learn that research shows that giving people facts actually backfires. It makes them surer about their own beliefs. Why? because it gives them an opportunity to rehearse their own arguments.


Then there’s the issue of which facts to focus on. When people used to hear about my work in marketing new drugs for the pharmaceutical industry, they never understood why we had to spend so much time figuring what facts to give. But the facts themselves are dry and most people don’t want to spend the time to understand details. We humans only have so much time in a day, and reading detailed results requires lots of attention. Attention is a limited resource. You need to pick your facts.

Adam Grant gives an example of how facts don’t persuade in his book, Think Again. He describes a debate contest on the issue of free preschool. One debater cited many more facts in favor of their argument. In contrast, the other debater used fewer facts but also worked with the ingoing perceptions of the audience. By doing so, the more selective debater was able to get them to think in a different way. (Spoiler if you haven’t read his book: One of the debaters was a computer, but he doesn’t tell us that until afterwards. Guess which one was the computer.)

Adam Grant also confesses his dark past in how he used to use facts. He calls the way he used to argue being a logic bully. But he has changed.

Are you a logic bully or a computer? You can change. I did and so did Adam Grant.

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