We all have opinions about the things we see, read, and hear in our daily lives. These opinions and perceptions are influenced by a combination of factors: belief systems, morals, values, upbringing, attitudes, intellectual judgement, and emotional sentiment. Like many things in life, opinions aren’t static; they continue to evolve as we accumulate more information and learn.
Long-held opinions about a person, issue, or topic can be turned on a dime by a new piece of information or argument. Sometimes it takes more proof and persuasive reasoning for it to sway, especially if there is sentiment involved. In some instances the opinion changes positively, others not.
When opinion changes
For many years, doping rumours swirled around Lance Armstrong. I didn’t want to believe it. It couldn’t be true. I idolized him as a Cycling God who overcame illness and adversity to achieve a record 7 consecutive Tour de France wins. Eventually, the proof was just too irrefutable, followed by his admission. I was extremely disappointed and my opinion of him changed dramatically. Naturally, I was dismayed to learn that he was guilty of doping, but what bothered me more was the length of time he spent denying and laying blame elsewhere combined with the meager apology once he came clean. He didn’t seem contrite at all. I might have forgiven him his sins if he had come clean years ago and showed true remorse.
From this example I learned, that sometimes, it’s not what someone does that changes your opinion, but rather, how they handle themselves afterwards.
Influence and persuasion come in many forms. We can be influenced by those closest to us, by leaders in society, and by the media. These influences often not only change our opinions, but also our behaviour in the decisions we make.
When behaviour changes
Morgan Spurlock‘s 2004 documentary “Super Size Me“, where he examines the fast food industry by subjecting himself to a month long diet of solely McDonald’s food, blew me away. It was surprising, shocking, and at times, just plain disgusting. I had been a fan of McDonalds when I was a kid (who wasn’t?), but after watching the movie and seeing the effect it had on his health, I couldn’t bear the thought of walking into a McDonald’s and ordering a meal. Nine years later, I still won’t eat their hamburgers and fries. That movie changed my behaviour.
Influence and persuasion may not always change your behavior and actions, it might simply open your eyes to a different way of thinking about an issue.
When thoughts change
I used to think the sport of hunting was barbaric and senseless, until I dated a hunter. He explained to me that hunting was a regulated activity where you were required to complete a hunter education course and firearm safety training. There were also conservation limits on what and where you could hunt. And most importantly, in my eyes, was the fact that many hunters consume what they hunt; it isn’t just a kill sport. My opinion of hunting hasn’t 100% changed, but my eyes have been opened to another way of thinking about it.
As we walk through life, it’s important to take a moment to reflect on where our perceptions and opinions originate, be conscious of the influences that may change them, and be open to new ways of thinking. In doing so, we can make better informed decisions.
As a PR professional, it’s equally important to understand the underlying factors that form and shift public opinion, for those opinions and perceptions will have an impact on your company or brand.