JoshI wrote an article recently on the idea that we are changed more by what we say than what we hear. “Speaking the truth we will grow…” Not, “Hearing the truth we will grow.” Ephesians 4.15. I suspect you agree. Question: how do you get your lecture teachers to adopt a question-and-answer approach?

Answer: you don’t do it by lecturing them. You don’t turn your lecturing teachers into discussion leaders by lecturing.

Lecture teachers must experience a life-changing discussion for themselves. I am convinced that many of them have never experienced a life-changing discussion. Once they experience it, many will be hooked. They will never teach the same way again. To understand why, consider how you would cure people with a horrible snake phobia. Here is how Albert Bandura did it. Note: he didn’t use lecture.

Albert turned his academic eye on finding a way to cure snake phobics. Phobics provide a perfect set of beliefs for learning how to change people’s thinking. First, phobics’ feelings are not accurate, and they would benefit from having them changed. Second, phobics resist change at every turn. Learn how to alter the inaccurate beliefs of people who have clung to a wild idea for years despite the constant nagging of friends and loved ones, and you’ve got something to crow about.

Bandura did not start with the method most of us would have chosen—he did not lecture. When it comes to confronting people who hold unrealistic fears (or just plain stupid ideas), we’ve all done it. We figure that words, well chosen and expertly delivered, can set the record straight. Bandura knew that the best way to overcome a phobia is to confront what one fears and then to be enabled to exercise control over it, but he also recognized that lectures and coercion would only reinforce the phobic’s dread and inability to act.

Since lectures don’t work with phobics and you can’t get them to conquer their fear through personal experience, you have to find something in between—something more than words and less than personal action. This “in between” thing turns out to be one of the most highly valued tools in any influence genius’s arsenal. It’s referred to as vicarious experience.

Bandura asked subjects to watch from the doorway of the room—or if that was still too difficult, to watch through glass—as the therapist walked into the room containing the snake, took a look at it, opened the terrarium, petted the snake, and finally removed the boa and placed it on his or her lap. After the subjects watched someone else handle the snake, Dr. Bandura then asked them to follow similar steps. First they had to simply walk into the room.

But this wasn’t enough to put everyone at ease. Some of the subjects asked for protective gear—hockey goalie gloves, a baseball catcher chest protector and mask, and so on. Now, dressed like a samurai warrior, subjects entered the room and stood next to the enclosed tank. Gradually, after several tries they worked up to removing the terrarium cover and then quickly retreated from the room. No harm done. After a bit more experience, they finally touched the snake. Later still they touched the snake without gloves and so forth. Eventually subjects sat in the room by themselves with the six-foot constrictor draped across their lap.

And now for the real miracle: The entire process took only three hours! People who had been debilitated most of their lives by a paralyzing fear were completely “cured” in a single morning. And the results lasted a lifetime.

Once the phobics had a personal and positive interaction with the snake, they never regressed, and it improved their lives forever. In Dr. Bandura’s own words, “It was surprising to see how liberating it was for the subjects to be freed from the phobia. Their whole life seemed to open up before them now that they didn’t have to worry about snakes. In addition, they gained confidence about their ability to make personal changes. Since they had been able to conquer their fear of snakes, perhaps now they could overcome other problems.”

People choose their behaviors based on what they think will happen to them as a result. First and foremost, humans are thinking creatures who can and do learn in a variety of ways. The thoughts that most profoundly affect behavior are composed of mini maps of cause and effect. For instance: “If I touch the snake, then it will wrap around my arm, drop me to the floor, crush me, and eat me like a large human Twinkie. Therefore, I’ll stay away from the snake.”

If you want to change behavior, any behavior, you have to change maps of cause and effect.

When it comes to altering behavior, you need to help others answer only two questions. First: Is it worth it? (If not, why waste the effort?) And second: Can they do this thing? (If not, why try?)

The most common tool we use to change others’ expectations is the use of verbal persuasion.

When it comes to resistant problems, verbal persuasion rarely works.

The great persuader is personal experience. With persistent problems, it’s best to give verbal persuasion a rest and try to help people experience the world as you experience it. Personal experience is the mother of all cognitive map changers. For instance, even after watching others touch the snake, Bandura’s phobics didn’t completely change their views. After all, the stranger messing with the snake could easily have been a professional snake handler. Only after the subjects had handled the boa themselves to no ill effect did they change their minds.

Let’s take a moment to consider the most profound and obvious implications of what we’ve just learned. When trying to encourage others to change their long-established views, we should fight our inclination to persuade them through the clever use of verbal gymnastic and debate tricks. Instead, we should opt for a field trip—or several of them. Nothing changes a mind like the cold, hard world hitting it with actual real-life data. — Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, First Edition: The Power to Change Anything, First Edition by Kerry Patterson, David Maxfield, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler

You need to lead them by example. Let them in a discussion group. I nearing completion of a free series of lessons for just this purpose. You can access them here.