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Flipfloppery: Political Inconsistency, 3rd Part

July 15, 2008 Persuasion Politics 0

This post is the third part in a three part series of posts on flipfloppery, and the cost of inconsistency in political candidates. I hope you don’t mind, but I couldn’t help changing up the title, flipflopping as it were on whether to stick with the ‘Pt 1, Pt 2, Pt 3’ titling formula I began with, or to introduce the new element and violate the expectation created by the two previous titles. And now you have it. As I look at it, I find it disturbing somehow, and yet fulfilling at the same time.

I suppose I should begin this blog post with a confession: I have no problem with people changing their minds. My business is all about the art of change, all about positive change, making things better. I say change your mind, change your life, change your world. I say that if you change the way you look at things, the way things look will change. And I think that flexibility of thought is a healthy thing, particularly in a leader.

New information requires new thinking, and introducing inconsistency is an almost surefire way to force people to pay attention, to force a new perspective, if only for a moment. It draws our attention and interest to new possibilities.

That said, I know that when I’m dealing with people, they prefer consistency, and my personal preference for change may not be persuasive. So really, this is Pt 3, and I was just kidding around with that ‘3rd Part’ nonsense.

Let’s explore the dynamic of the persuasion signal of consistency. How does consistency and its opposite work on our sub-conscious thinking? It’s simple. Consistency leads to the fulfillment of expectations, and we all want to be fulfilled. Inconsistency has the reverse effect. It leads to cognitive dissonance, which we the people find disturbing.

Think about it. If the value of a product you purchase is inconsistent with the price you pay, cognitive dissonance leads to a loss of trust. If a salesperson promises the sun, the moon, the stars and the sky, and then after the sale the customer calls in for service only to find out that “Um, we don’t actually do the sun, the moon, the stars and the sky,” the cognitive dissonance is great enough to put an end to that relationship forever.

We, the people, are funny about consistency. We associate consistency with personal and intellectual strength, whether true or not. As Stephen Colbert described President Bush at the White House Correspondents Dinner a couple of years back, “He believes the same thing on Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened on Tuesday!”

You can see the whole video here (the quote is at 5:15 into the 10 minute clip):

[youtube]http://youtube.com/watch?v=BSE_saVX_2A&feature=related[/youtube]

We, the people, tend to be consistent in our opinions, regardless of evidence to the contrary. In politics, incumbents almost always get reelected, and not just because of gerrymandering and vote rigging. Fact is, voters don’t want to admit they’ve made a mistake! Many if not most people would rather stick with a bad decision rather than admit to bad judgment! I sometimes find great delight in the twisted logic I hear from people when they justify what they have to know was a very bad decision, just to avoid acknowledging that they were wrong.

Inconsistency creates cognitive dissonance. And dissonance drives people to distraction. Most people hate dissonance with such intensity that they try to avoid noticing it whenever possible. How do you deal with dissonance? Maybe you ignore it and hope it goes away. Or maybe you deny it, and ‘stay the course,’ even when the course is a trainride to ever greater disaster. Maybe you defend, explain, justify and otherwise make excuses for dissonance, in the hopes that it will seem consistent if you consistently explain it away. But I can tell you this: Because of your deep dislike for dissonance, you can overlook glaring examples of inconsistency for incredibly long periods of time. Don’t believe me? Dare to examine yourself.

But don’t feel bad, it’s good ole’ human nature. It happens to all of us. It happened to me recently. I stuck with a bad decision, overlooked all the evidence to the contrary for six months. I should have known better. I would have done better, if I just could have gotten past my resistance to recognizing the dissonance of the glaring inconsistencies there all along. This would have saved me a lot of time. A lot of money. A lot of embarrassment. But I, like you, was driven to distraction, and sought out the smallest hints of evidence consistent with what I wanted to believe. Consistency is so much more comforting and comfortable. No wonder we cling to it. No wonder politicians work so hard to help us, to give us something consistent to embrace.

I’ll continue with this line of thought in my next blog post, part 4 in my 3 part series. (You doing ok? Bear with me, and I’ll wrap this up I PROMISE on my Friday post (which I may actually post on Thursday.) And I do consistently keep my promises!

Meanwhile, what is the impact of flipfloppery on your thinking about these candidates? I’d love to hear your comments.

be well,
Rick

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