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How Cognitive Dissonance Helps With Your Persuasion Skills

Have you ever thought about the connection between cognitive dissonance and persuasion skills?

Business leaders need to do everything in their power to gain a competitive edge for their company. A specific set of skills can help them communicate and persuade others.

Here’s how addressing cognitive dissonance can be used to persuade and motivate.

What is cognitive dissonance?

In psychology, cognitive dissonance refers to mental discomfort that arises in people every time they make a decision or take an action that doesn’t align with their beliefs, values, and prior commitments.

It may be caused in two ways:

  1. Through a misalignment of actions and beliefs
  2. Through conflicting beliefs

When faced with contradictory facts to their ideals, people will want to eliminate that psychological stress and maintain a consistent view of the world around them. This feeling of inner tension or conflict is the cognitive dissonance.

People naturally want to resolve this feeling, but they also must be made aware of it to know how to resolve it.

Leaders who want to improve their persuasion skills can address cognitive dissonance in the interest of motivating others (and themselves) to change their behavior.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you think of yourself as a generous person, but you refuse to give the suggested $20 donation to a cancer fundraiser at the office.

In this case, you believe you are a giving person, but then the failure to act on this belief creates a struggle inside.

You might try to solve this inner conflict in a variety of ways, including:

  • Apologizing
  • Admitting fault
  • Rationalizing
  • Philosophizing
  • Explaining
  • Atoning

In this case, it wouldn’t be appropriate for a leader to point out that they “should” be giving money. But perhaps a gentle nudge or reminder from a friend who struggles with cancer would be just what they need to feel better.
Leaders who understand how to address and sometimes create this type of inner struggle can help others, and themselves succeed in their goals.

The Link Between Cognitive Dissonance and Persuasion Skills

Many of us have noticed that when we try to persuade others, they, in turn, try to resist.

If, for instance, we were looking to convince someone to buy something and they sensed it, the chances are that it won’t work. It is the case even when that person wants, needs, and can afford that item.

It is in these scenarios where dissonance will work to your advantage. In a way, it will help people persuade themselves.

Over the years, neuroscientists have made great strides in understanding how the human brain processes information. And as it turns out, our brains are incredibly biased, particularly regarding religion and politics.

When playing the role of the persuader, you can’t merely slam people with facts and hope that they will view things your way. You need to make cognitive dissonance work in your favour, not against you.

Here’s the key: need to make people experience that dissonance by showing them where they are and where they want to go. In other words, you need to paint a picture of the problem they have and how you can solve it.

Self-Perception Theory and Motivation

One fascinating aspect of dissonance is that it subconsciously urges people to remain consistent with their beliefs or commitments. By understanding their beliefs, we can then use our persuasion skills to help them move towards their goals.

Self-perception theory states that people’s actions drive their personality and attitudes, not the other way around. Though it might seem counterintuitive at first, it’s something that most people realized about themselves at one point or another.

For example, a person who perceives himself or herself as interested in hiking may end up buying the equipment to go camping. But according to this theory, it’s because they bought the stuff and went on camping trips, in the first place, that people believe themselves to have an interest in the activity.

If action drives attitude, you can use it to persuade them in a specific direction using these 4 steps:

  1. Discover their Belief – What do they believe in, what are their past experiences and attitude towards you, your company, and your product?
  2. Confirm Commitment – Get people to voluntarily commit to their beliefs, preferably in a public way.
  3. Generate Dissonance – Once you get that commitment, create dissonance by showing them that they’ve not kept up with their engagement.
  4. Offer the Solution – Whenever you create dissonance, you should also offer a solution by explaining why your product, service, or opinion can solve that issue.

Improve Your Persuasion Skills with Leadership Coaching

By using cognitive dissonance to their advantage, leaders can persuade others of their views and opinions.

To learn more, let’s connect on or

Enjoyed this article? Here are three more to help you:

Embracing On-Demand Learning
Why a People-Oriented Culture is a Must for Every Organization
How to Remove Bias When Interviewing

This article was originally published in 2019 but was updated for 2021.

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Inscape Consulting Group
Greg Nichvalodoff, BSc. BM (Honors), MBA, PCC, CMC
Office: 604.943.0800
Mobile: 604.831.4734