Cognitive Dissonance: The False Good Idea of Changing Your Mind at the Last Minute

Death to reunionite! You are tired of overcrowded meetings, where 12 people are invited when 3 would have been more than enough. You were determined to start the dynamic: none of your meetings would exceed 5 guests.

But that was before. Here you are organizing a meeting - and more specifically, adding the participants. The essential participants are already on the list, so you could stop there... What if your intention is misunderstood? Or worse, misperceived?

After all, everyone is free to manage their agenda as they see fit: if they are not embarrassed by spending too much time in meetings, it's up to them. The number of guests is increasing: another overcrowded meeting... Long live the reunionite.


What's going on in your head: Cognitive dissonance

Every action begins with an intention, formulated by your brain. Sometimes our intentions coexist with antagonistic behaviours, i.e. our actions go against our intentions. This state of tension, theorized by the American psycho-sociologist Léon Festinger, is called cognitive dissonance. Our brain will absolutely seek to reduce this tension by seeking coherence. Thus, we will sometimes be pushed to modify our behavior, and act in favor of our intention: if I intend to do this, then I do this. Unfortunately, we can also opt for the opposite choice, i.e. abandoning the initial intention: if I do not do this, then I abandon my intention to do it.

One of the factors that will push the brain towards this second option is the perceived difficulty of the action. This is what happened in the example described above: rather than having to take the time to justify the people you chose to invite to your meeting (and those you de facto ruled out), which would have been consistent with your intention, you decided to abandon your goal. And in order to avoid a feeling of failure, your brain has pushed possible actions out of your control zone: thus, if your team continues to have overcrowded, and therefore unproductive, meetings, it is because others do not make the effort to refuse these meetings, or even to organize them with fewer people directly.

Cognitive dissonance is a classic symptom when you make a resolution that takes you out of your comfort zone - and it can be a powerful lever for action. To encourage you to change your behaviour rather than your intent, reinforce your action plan by making it public.


Nudges to the Rescue: The Power of Public Engagement

By sharing your commitment with one or more other people, you help to create a social norm, i.e. a behaviour expected of everyone. In this way, you will be able to play on your colleagues' social desirability bias, which will push them to change their behaviour in order to do what is expected of them. Here, the bias will act as a positive pressure: it will prevent you from renouncing your commitment... and will therefore push you to take action to stick to it!


So don't wait any longer: Share your proposal with your team

Why? Once you have shared your idea of limiting meetings to 5 participants with your entire team, you will cease to be the sole bearer of the intention: you will have made it a new, even optional, rule. Consequently, at each new meeting, the organizer will try to act in coherence with this intention (under penalty of light cognitive dissonance!).

How? Take advantage of a team meeting, or a meeting where as many people participate as possible, and formulate your proposal at the end: the idea of a more productive meeting will resonate with the meeting that has just ended, so you will have every chance of getting a strong commitment!


By applying the nudges presented in each of the 6 episodes of the series, you will have all the keys in hand to take action:

1. Set a starter step

2. Break down your final goal into small steps

3. Quantify your progress

4. Identify difficulties and plan for their resolution

5. Formulate your action plan

6. Make it public!

Have a good time!