As salespeople in senior housing we often ask, “How do I convince my prospect that a move will be so beneficial to them?” Don’t try. It is not only ineffective, but also counter-productive. Along these lines, a recent study from Dartmouth College shows that changing people’s behaviors regarding public health is much more complicated than just stating facts, and that correcting people can actually have negative consequences.

“Giving corrective information is often ineffective with people whose minds we want to change, and in some cases it can actually make the problem worse,” says social science researcher Brendan Nyhan, who was featured in NPR’s “Morning Edition.”

Nyhan’s study focused on the belief that there is a causal link between certain vaccines and autism, a claim that has been circulating without scientific evidence to back it up. After he evaluated more than 1,700 parents in the US, Nyhan found that corrective information changed his subjects’ understanding of health issues, but it didn’t change their behavior. Parents who once opposed vaccinating their child were even less likely to do so once they received correct information.

Why did this happen? Nyhan argues that while people may accept corrective information as true, they will also fight back against a new way of thinking that they don’t like. Telling someone that their opinions are inaccurate is also damaging to their self esteem and sense of identity. Those who have had their beliefs challenged see this as part of a larger shift in behavior and a loss of who they are.

This is certainly true of older adults who do not want to have their way of thinking challenged, and are resistant to facts we may see as obvious reasons to move. At the developmental stage that is old age, people instead want to maintain control over their surroundings, even if this includes acting in a way that may not make sense to us (i.e., staying in their homes despite obvious problems and difficulties).

Is there a solution to this problem? Nyhan believes that an important factor in changing public behaviors is to first find ways to boost people’s self esteem so that they are less likely to have negative feelings toward a new way of thinking and a perhaps embrace their new sense of identity.

So, If convincing doesn’t work in senior housing, what is the answer? First, strive to validate your prospect’s values, beliefs and concerns. Rather than focusing on solutions to things that are wrong with their situation, focus on legacy and life stories to highlight past decisions that you can both agree were positive. With a stronger sense of identity in place,  your prospects are more likely to accept or initiate change, and as sales counselors, we will be there to guide them.

 

 

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