Do you believe it’s possible to change people’s minds on highly-charged, polarizing issues?

Issues like gun control or illegal immigration?

Conventional thinking says “no,” but conventional thinking is wrong.

There are at least three proven methods for changing people’s minds on even intensely personal and polarizing issues.

  1. Motivational Interviewing
  2. Deep Canvassing
  3. Street Epistemology

So what do these methods have in common?

They all emphasize:

  • Staying in a “relational space” with the other person and
  • Facilitating self-persuasion, rather than overtly trying to change the other’s mind.

This is why these methods succeed where others fail.

Outside attempts to change another’s position create resistance when that person’s psychological immune system activates against foreign influence.

And the “closer to home” the belief, the stronger the immune response.

Whereas an open, friendly, non-judgemental conversation that facilitates self-persuasion sidesteps psychological resistance.

You can’t “defend” yourself against your own feelings and convictions.

If you want to see an example of this sort of self-persuasion in action, watch this video:


And while all three self-persuasion methods are fascinating and worthy of study, Deep Canvassing is the one most easily applied to advertising, IMO.

A Closer Look at Deep Canvassing

Below is the best definition I’ve been able to find on Deep Canvassing:

“Deep canvassing is a two-way empathic and non-judgemental conversation between canvassers and voters focused on structuring the voter’s beliefs. Canvassers use this method to engage voters in a conversation and get them to a mutual understanding by providing alternative perspectives highlighting their shared humanity.”

So that’s the overview. Here’s the process (as I understand it):

  1. Engage the voter and ask their opinion on an issue, as well as where they stand on a scale of 1-10, in terms of being for or against.
    • Remain warm, relational, empathetic, and curious
  2. Non-judgmentally explore the voter’s opinion. Move past abstractions to examine values and “reasons why.”
    • In cases where the voter is neither a 1 or a 10 on the scale, explore “why not” as well as why. For example, if they’re a 7, then why aren’t they a 9 or a 10?
    • By getting them to explain “why not,” you’re getting them to voice contrary reasons and ambiguous feelings.
  3. Continue to move deeper by asking for the voter’s personal stories and experiences pertaining to the issue. Move from eliciting reason-based statements to evoking experiential and emotional storytelling.
  4. Connect a personal story of yours to the voter’s story and values.
  5. Ask for and share another story that is less superficially about the issue, but is meant to facilitate “perspective taking” around shared human struggles or vulnerabilities. For example, “can you tell me about a time when you felt judged?”
  6. Engage with the voter’s initial concerns and opinions in light of your shared stories while giving them time to re-examine, reflect, and ponder. Help voters “actively process” areas of conflicted or ambivalent emotions and cognitive dissonance.
  7. Circle back to the original issue and seek their (hopefully revised) opinion/score on the 1-10 scale.

If you’d like to see the process in action, you can watch the videos below


How Well Does Deep Canvassing Work?

In short, deep canvassing works better than any other method.

Regular canvassing and the use of “talking points” have been shown to have ZERO effectiveness in influencing voters’ political beliefs.

Whereas Deep Canvassing has been shown to have durable, statistically significant impacts on voter beliefs.

The Magic Sauce

So what about Deep Canvassing makes it work so well?

Many will be tempted to say things like “connection” or “empathy.”

And those answers aren’t wrong, but they’re not particularly helpful, nor are they easily measured or scientifically verified.

Fortunately, political scientists studied Deep Canvassing and found the key ingredient that makes it so effective:

Shared Stories.

The scientists performed a controlled study between groups of voters who experienced:

  1. Deep Canvassing With Shared Stories,
  2. Abbreviated Deep Canvassing Without Shared Stories
  3. Regular Canvassing

Both regular canvassing and abbreviated deep canvassing, absent the sharing of stories, showed ZERO influence on voter beliefs.

Whereas deep canvassing with stories continued to show effectiveness at changing beliefs.

So why are shared stories so important to the process?

Perspective-taking & Shared Stories

When sharing their own stories, Canvassers implicitly ask voters to temporarily experience an issue from an alternative point of view.

You cannot enter a story world without seeing that world through the eyes of the main character, aka the “point of view” character.

And upon taking the storyteller’s perspective, the voter gains increased empathy for the personal impact that a given political stance or law may have had upon the canvasser.

This allows voters to ponder and consider alternative reasoning and alternative experiences within the safety of “story time.”

Active Processing & Shared Stories

Learning theorists define “Active Processing” as the consolidation and internalization of information by the learner in a way that is personally meaningful while fitting within the learner’s overall worldview.

More practically, active processing refers to activities that help people re-organize and self-explain new insights, experiences, and information.

These activities include simulations, role-playing, and scenario-making. Notice the narrative theme behind all those things?

What is storytelling but a “flight simulation” of other’s lived experience?

To spin a yarn is to provide your audience with ready-made behavioral scripts for handling differing situations.

When the story scripts conflict with previously learned behavior, audience members either tune out the story, or they are left trying to reconcile the difference.

That reconciliation IS the “active processing.” And while that must be done internally by the individual, it can be facilitated.

Applying This to Advertising

Obviously, mass media advertising is not a two-way communication channel.

The ad has to be recorded and broadcast out as one-way communication.

But that doesn’t mean that it can’t FEEL as if it’s a two-way street.

Indeed, when bonding ads are most effective, they will produce exactly that feeling of a two-way relationship.

Psychologists call that feeling a para-social relationship.

And the best way to accelerate bonding is to share stories with the audience, starting with your origin story.

But also:

In other words, if your ad campaign is not knee-deep in storytelling, you probably need a new advertising strategist and copywriter.