Avoid the Backfire Effect

 Everyone knows that Napoleon Bonaparte was short, right? Someone even named a syndrome after this fact – the “Napoleon” syndrome. So Napoleon must have been really short, right? Or they wouldn’t have named a syndrome after that fact.

So what if I told you that Napoleon was actually 5’7” – and taller than the average Frenchman of his time?

How hard is it for you to accept the correct information? Probably not very hard at all. Napoleon’s height is trivia, at best.

Now, suppose I told you something that challenges your core moral or political beliefs. Let’s say you’re a responsible gun owner and Second Amendment supporter – and I tell you that after 7,389 gun murders to date in 2017, it’s time to enact gun control with teeth. Will you accept that information so easily? Probably not.

A few years ago, researchers at the University of Southern California Creativity and Brain Institute put participants in an MRI machine and recorded their brain activity while telling them things that contradicted their political views. The researchers discovered that the amygdala – the part of the brain that governs emotion and responds to physical threats – also lights up in response to intellectual threats.

In fact, challenging those core beliefs can actually cause a listener to dig in their heels and cling more strongly to their original information or belief. This is called the “backfire effect.”

Psychological “tics” like the backfire effect may not seem relevant to tax planning. But they’re crucial to selling your services. The more you understand how your prospects’ brains work, the more opportunities you’ll get to help them save those thousands of dollars that you joined TaxCoach to help them save.

So, suppose you tell a prospective client that their current accountant is bat-sh*t crazy and is costing them thousands of dollars per year in taxes they don’t have to pay.

That may very well be true. But your prospect – who probably considers himself a good judge of talent – may be emotionally invested in his choice of accountant. Nobody wants to be told they made a bad decision. And if your assertion that they made a bad decision challenges their core confidence in themselves, you can find yourself on the business end of the backfire effect.

What’s the solution? Well, when it comes to firing the old accountant or advisor, don’t tell your prospect they made a mistake. We recommend you say, “It looks like you’ve outgrown your old accountant.” That flips your statement from a challenge to your prospect’s lack of judgment in choosing “fully-depreciated Frank” into a positive affirmation of their judgment in growing their income!

Can you think of more occasions where minding the backfire effect might help you be more effective? How can you reframe those challenges to avoid triggering your listeners’ defenses? (We’ll be discussing more of these psychological triggers at the CTM Tax Strategy conference in Cincinnati, November 15-17.)

Nobody goes into the tax business to play amateur psychologist. But you quickly realize that when you hang out your shingle, you’re not really in the business of planning your clients’ taxes. You’re really in the business of convincing people to pay you to plan their taxes. The more you understand how their brain works to arrive at that decision, the more you’ll actually save!