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Robb Willer

Trying to get someone to see your side? Start by connecting it to their underlying moral values.

Prof. of Social Psychology & Organizational Behavior at Stanford | Director of the Polarization and Social Change Lab

Contact Robb For Booking
Robb Willer | Prof. of Social Psychology & Organizational Behavior at Stanford | Director of the Polarization and Social Change Lab
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

Our current political climate hasn’t been this polarized since the Civil War, says social psychologist and speaker Robb Willer. An antidote to this hyper-polarization is Willer’s technique of “moral reframing,” which teaches opposing groups to advocate for their beliefs through the lens of their opponent’s. Willer’s brilliant, timely talks provide both the wisdom and tools needed to challenge polarization at a time when we need it more than ever.

How would you persuade a passionately decisive opponent to change their mind? First step, says Stanford professor and behavior expert Robb Willer, realize that you can’t just use the appeal that you find most convincing. As he explains in his TED Talk (which has been viewed more than two million times), think about how you can reconfigure the terms of your position to suit their beliefs, values, and morals. “It sounds obvious,” says Willer, “and even though it is, it’s something we really struggle to do. We talk like we’re addressing a mirror.” Through his rigorously-tested technique of “moral reframing”, Willer shows how real, no-trickery persuasion begins through empathizing with the other side. It’s about discovering with what the person you disagree with tends to care about, and using that as the foundation for how you share you beliefs; creatively finding ways for your position to fit with their values.

 

In keynotes and custom workshops, Willer demonstrates the political, social, and professional uses of strategic persuasion. This is a skill to be learned, and one that relates to discussions as varied as same-sex marriage, sustaining the environment, and organizational culture. In his clear and warmly funny talks, Willer shows how the responsibility falls on all of us, no matter our political allegiance, to bridge these value gaps: and there is so much to be gained from that.

 

Co-director of the Philanthropy and Civil Society Center at Stanford, Willer was recently appointed Director of Stanford’s landmark Polarization and Social Change Lab, where he and his team are developing ambitious projects on reducing political bias, bridging political divides, and constructive political communication. At Stanford, Willer is also a professor of sociology, psychology, and organizational behavior, where he focuses on the forces that bring people together – like trust and cooperation – and forces that divide them – like politics and morality. Willer’s work explores the social psychology of political attitudes, including the effects of fear, prejudice, and masculinity in contemporary U.S. politics, as well as how to make the work we do more meaningful.

 

Speech Topics

Politics & Society
Reframing the Fight for Climate Justice Making Moral Arguments Appeal to Both Sides
Why can’t we have civil conversations about climate change? It’s clear that the climate crisis is growing ever more urgent—but political gridlock is a major barrier to even minor changes in policy. It’s not necessarily that the majority of liberals and conservatives fundamentally disagree on whether or not there is a problem: it’s that how we talk about the issue most commonly comes with moral messaging that uniquely appeals to liberal mindsets. In this talk, Robb Willer explores the prospect of pro-environmental persuasion to cross party lines and finally move the conversation forward. For instance, which would bother you more, a picture of a forest full of garbage, or an image of clear-cut forest that’s now just tree stumps? Willer’s studies show that conservatives would be more bothered by the former, as it perfectly illustrates how purity has been corrupted; whereas liberals would see the permanent harm of the clear cutting as more impactful.
 
Currently, environmental campaigns overwhelmingly take a harm-based approach to their messaging. These campaigns cast green living as morally correct. But that doesn’t necessarily resonate with conservatives, who tend to respond to messages aimed at ideals such as purity and patriotism. Liberals, on the other hand, tend to focus on protection from harm and moral obligation. It’s all about adapting how we communicate with one another to reach a common goal; and Willer’s talk provides inspiring, timely evidence that we can close the gap on ethical engagement with environmental concerns to find mutually acceptable—and necessary—strategies.  
Happiness & Wellness
Making Your Work Matter Finding Meaning and Purpose on the Clock
More than anything else, people say they want their work to have meaning. But for most of us, that can be easier said than done. What does it take to find one’s work meaningful, and how can you get there? In this uplifting talk, Robb Willer discusses the major factors that lead people to see their work as having a higher purpose. Things like strengthening interpersonal connections in the workplace, and engaging in “prosocial behaviors”: actions that primarily benefit others, like generosity, charity and self-sacrifice. What can managers do to create an environment where employees feel like their work is valuable and essential? And how can employees reframe their understanding of their jobs—or restructure them—to be more invigorating and vital? After years of research, Willer knows that the most reliable path to these goals is thorough engaging in thoughtful prosocial behaviors. His research on generosity and prosocial behavior has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, CNN, and 20/20—and he’ll share exactly how you can connect with the most inspired version of yourself at work, and in life.  
Politics & Society
Polarized Persuasion The Art of Talking to Someone You Disagree with

We tend to make political arguments in terms of our own moral values. So, when liberals make the case for same-sex marriage and conservatives make theirs for small government, they communicate using a moral compass that speaks only to them. The problem with this method, says Robb Willer, is that it doesn’t convince anyone who isn’t already convinced. In this talk, Willer will explain his technique of moral reframing and all its uses. Your audience will come away with the insight and tools to make new arguments that speak to the morals of whoever it is they’re hoping to persuade. The potential, as Willer explains, is transformative.

 
Corporate Culture
Making Work Meaningful Refining Purpose in the Workplace
People want their jobs to be meaningful, to have purpose. But what do they mean, and how can leaders help them find it? The meaningfulness of work, perhaps more than any other thing that workers say they want, can be built and shaped by leaders. But because this aspect of work is so elusive, doing so is far from obvious. In this session, Robb Willer will approach the management of meaning analytically, surveying past research on effective interventions that help workers feel their work serves a larger purpose. Through real-world examples and small group discussion, your audience will learn to think systematically about how to build meaning for themselves and their employees.