How to get voters off the fence? With a soft touch

The most successful change agents know that they cannot accomplish their goals through brute force. Instead, they must be catalysts who pull down barriers, smooth out friction, and find more subtle ways of bringing people on the fringes closer to the middle—exactly where they want them to be.

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“When you push people, they don’t just go along, they push back,” Wharton marketing professor Jonah Berger says. “They think about all of the reasons why they don’t want to do what you’re suggesting, and sometimes they do the exact opposite.”

Berger reveals the techniques of powerful persuasion in his book, “The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind,” which was published earlier this year. It’s based on interviews with business leaders, salespeople, health care professionals, hostage negotiators, and others whose jobs often require a softer touch to get their targets to engage in—or disengage from—certain kinds of behaviors and actions. Berger calls them catalysts, a term he borrowed from the field of chemistry, because they have the substance to facilitate change.

“We’ve all had experiences trying to change someone’s mind. Whether it’s our boss’ mind at the office or our colleague’s mind. Whether it’s a customer or client’s mind. Whether it’s our spouse or our child’s mind. And we all know it often doesn’t work,” Berger says.

One way to sway undecided voters, Berger says, is to close the gap between where they are and where candidates want them to be. Breaking down the divide into smaller steps makes it easier for people to navigate.

Read more at Knowledge@Wharton.