If you get the unsettling sense that a person pitching you something wants to discredit or stigmatize a competing option, you’ll need to first parse the facts from the characterizations. Dig into “people think” or the “community believes” claims to find out who actually says what. What are their exact words? Did they use the word “unsafe,” or is that a characterization? How do various stakeholders interpret information from the source, and what incentives do they have?
When someone’s pitch relies heavily on their associations, vet their authenticity. Ask questions about those relationships. What exactly is the person’s connection to those people or brands? Have they invested time in those causes? What actions have they taken to act out the values they claim to hold?
Shared negative sentiment can unite people — but it can also help manipulators align people with their agenda.
Carefully vet any pitch that invokes shared enemies or common threats to build rapport. If someone talks about a fear you both have of a disastrous outcome or impending event, or if they claim to share your anger toward a person, situation, or brand — take note. How they use this common threat matters. Do they mention it because it’s a real problem they aim to solve? Or does the common threat serve no purpose other than to help them bond with you? If someone stokes your anger or fear just to signal like-mindedness, they’re priming you to accept whatever they say next.
It’s tempting to use appearance as a proxy for reality. But take a moment to ask for sources of market insights that reveal audience size and sentiment. Quantifiable data like NPS scores, usage statistics, web analytics, and social engagement indicate sentiment more directly than follower numbers. Get names of references and case-study subjects, and ask about ambiguous heuristics like media logos on a website.
If you find yourself pressured to adopt a consensus view you’re unsure of, investigate whether it has actual support — or just compliance. Ask colleagues what they like about the idea and how they see it helping. Watch for their tone. Are they evangelizing, or just going along? Create an opening for candid feedback by sharing your own uncertainty: “I don’t know how I feel about X. Are you convinced it’s the right move?” Anonymous surveys can also open the door for discussion by uncovering that team members aren’t sharing their actual views.
This tactic of dividing and conquering is known as pluralistic ignorance. It works by inducing a fear among group members of opposing a bad idea because they’ve been (wrongly) led to believe they’re alone in their opposition.
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