Belonging trumps logic every time

I felt like I was being ripped apart by a pack of ravenous wild animals. For the first couple of hours I was too shocked to do anything. But after six hours of fighting, I finally gave in. And pulled the Facebook post down. Yes, I had just suffered my first troll attack from my seemingly sleepy retirement community on Vancouver Island.

A family doctor who identifies as a climate activist had posted elsewhere that she was interested in moving to Vancouver Island but couldn't find an affordable place to live. Since my town is desperate for doctors, I shared her post in a community group to see if anyone had a rental available. I assumed that, because the lack of doctors is a real pain point for everyone, people would trip over themselves to welcome her. I was wrong.

"She's hell bent on climate scam. She wouldn't treat anyone who's not a climate freak."

"I don't think I would trust her medical skills based on her climate crap."

"She's a flake. Look at this news article - she was arrested at a climate protest."

"Climate scam. She wants to steal affordable housing from people who really need it."

It turned out that dozens of people who identify as climate deniers were willing to give up their chance to get a family doctor because she drove an electric car. Protecting their climate identity and sense of belonging was more important to them than their personal health.

As Dan Pink tells us in his fabulous book "To Sell is Human", we spend 40% of every day trying to get people to "buy" our ideas. And we do it using logic, data, facts and trends. Yet, here is a crystal clear demonstration that belonging and emotion trump logic every time.

What does this mean for us as change agents? In many ways, it makes our job tougher. We have to figure out what people identify with before we can present our ideas. Then frame our arguments so that we give them something they value.

The trick here is not to lie or spin the idea – like we see with today's massive greenwashing campaigns. It's to use something like a Venn diagram, to find the sweet spot between your idea and their identity.

If the doctor's post had focused solely on what she and the community had in common – a passion for health care – that likely would have opened the door for her to move here. Once she had built trust and relationships, she'd have more social capital to help her engage in her climate activism work.

In other words, rather than trying to move people to where we want them to be in one big leap, perhaps we need to adopt a strategy of small steps, building trust along the way.

That said, from an equity standpoint, this approach sucks – because it asks people to bury part of their identity in order to sell their ideas. And I'm sure many change-makers would say that it's better to open about who you are and let the world learn to love you, than to hide.

For me, it all comes back to strategic clarity and your priorities. If the doctor's primary goal was to find a community of other climate activists to join, then hiding her identity wouldn't make sense. However if her priority was to find a community where she could work as a doctor and being a climate activist came second, then she may want to keep that information to herself initially.

Either way, the takeaway is the same. Belonging trumps logic every time. Something to keep in mind on your own change leadership journey.