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Effective Strategies for Influencing
Attitudes and Behaviors

by Neil Wollman, Margaret Lobenstine, Maria Foderaro, & Stephen Stose

Neil Wollman is a Professor of Psychology at Manchester College, in Indiana ( He has worked many years in applying psychological principles to social change, believing that each discipline has valuable and practical insights toward improving the world.

Margaret Lobenstine of Belchertown, Massachusetts has been interested in the challenge of how to effectively and respectfully convey messages of hope and change, whether as a white going door-to-door for the Black Panthers, a participant in Central America Speak-Out Weeks, a union organizer, or a vigiler in the Kehler-Corner tax resistance action. A Swarthmore graduate, she currently has her own business, helping clients develop authentic, balanced, and ethically resonant life plans.

Maria Foderaro has a background in social change working at Nonviolence International in Washington, D.C. while pursuing a graduate degree at American University.

Stephen Stose has a B.A. in Psychology, Philosophy, and German from Manchester College (1996) and plans to pursue a doctorate in the cognitive sciences.



The Four-Step Method

I. Open the Door

Listening and Learning

II. Meet Each Other

Commonality With Your Audience
Actions Speak Louder than Words

III. Talk To Each Other

National Symbols
Being Consistent
Appeal to the Emotions

IV. Work Together For Change

Proper Training
Public Commitment
Positive Reinforcement
Structure and Support
Active Participation

Conclusion & Appendix

48 Ways to Get Out Your Message


Clearly there are many wrongs in the world that need to be righted, and it will take more than today's number of active and concerned people to accomplish that goal. In order to bring about particular change, effective strategies for influencing the attitudes and behaviors of others are necessary. Fortunately, this work does not need to be done in a vacuum as psychologists and others at work in the field have identified key principles that influence such change.

The general principles outlined in this booklet have been established from research and experience in laboratory and real life settings, involving diverse areas such as education, business, environmental behavior, and public health, as well as direct application to political change. This does not automatically ensure success in their application, as people are different and situations vary. However, if you apply ideas prudently, creatively, and in combination, they will indeed help you move closer to your goals.

In fact, activists in many areas and over many years have been creatively and successfully applying many of these principles intuitively, though not always as extensively or as systematically as they might. This booklet will introduce many of these ideas and, in order to help make them more useful, each will be illustrated with concrete and actual examples of their application.

Choose and apply the following ideas that best suit your particular situation (viz., the cause you represent, your audience, the dynamics of your group, etc.). There is no need to apply all the ideas in any given situation. Utilizing the most appropriate and fitting ideas will require time, brainstorming, practice, setting objectives and strategies to get there, and regularly evaluating your progress. Your objectives and strategies should be determined by a) the nature and the causes of the particular political situation you are trying to address, b) who or what you must influence to make the needed changes (do some research), and c) the resources or allies you already possess.

Having taken the above into account, you will then be able to apply the four steps outlined in this pamphlet to determine an effective strategy. They are:

  1. Open the door: establish a favorable climate for discussion and lay a foundation for further communication
  2. Meet one another: show others who you are and learn about their concerns.
  3. Talk to each other: influence opinions with an effective, concise message.
  4. Work together for change: lead others to actual involvement by encouraging, reinforcing, and supporting their active political participation.

Before delineating the method in detail, it would be helpful to give a little more background. The following summarizes the suggested organization of the four step model and the various principles discussed.

Before personal interaction can occur, you first need an open door&emdash;a foundation for potential discussion and a contact that will provide an opportunity to promote support for your cause. With this "foot in the door," it is much more likely that a discussion of pertinent issues will commence. If in your meeting you can then learn about the concerns of those you hope to sway and if they can learn some things about you, you will be more likely to have an influence.

After getting to know something about each other, you can focus more specifically on the delivery of your message in hopes of gaining their support. Framing an effective message is an essential part of this process. Additionally, to help you achieve this, the appendix lists numerous vehicles for getting out your ideas.

If you are able to arouse sympathy and understanding for your concern, the last step is to get others to become active in promoting your cause. In other words, your hope is that they will walk the walk and commit themselves to behaving in ways that will promote social change.


The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues / / last updated May 10, 2000