Playing two songs at the same time sounds terrible. The dissonance screams in our skulls. It doesn't matter how good two songs might be. Our minds have no interest in hearing both at the same time.

People don't enjoy dissonance.


In 1956 Dr. Leon Festinger coined the term Cognitive Dissonance. He realized dissonance doesn't only occur in music. It can also be caused by conversation. It can especially be caused by opinions. It doesn't matter how well intentioned I may be, if I offer an opinion that contradicts my friends opinion, they're unlikely to enjoy the experience.

Aesop's Fable of The fox and the Grapes perfectly illustrates the power of cognitive dissonance.

A hungry fox is walking through the forest, looking for a bit of food. A few grapes are spotted on a nearby branch. Jumping to get them the fox flies through the air but lands with a frown. The grapes are too high. He jumps again and again but simply can't get the grapes. The tree can't be climbed. He knows he can't fly.

So the fox turns to leave with nothing but the taste of bitter disappointment in his mouth.

Then he stops. Looking back up, he notices the grapes have white spots near the stem. The grapes might not be completely ripe. Actually, those spots look a lot like the spots on a sour grape he had last month. These grapes are not completely ripe. Actually, they're very likely completely unripe! Probably... No, definitely sour. These grapes are sour!!

The fox's face wrinkles in disgust as his imagination leaves a wickedly sour taste clinging to his tongue.

Realizing these are sour grapes and walking away, a smile creeping across his face. For now he's completely satisfied after failing to get what he wanted so much.

What just happened?

The fox was excited to find the grapes, then disappointed because he couldn't get them. Now, however, he's completely satisfied to not have them at all.

The fox doesn't like believing he's incapable of reaching a goal he so desires. He'd rather change his desire than admit he couldn't reach it.

Keep this in mind whenever you offer to help someone else reach their goals. Once the fox has decided the grapes are sour, he won't see you as helpful when you show up offering to let loan him your ladder. His opinion's been formed and the best your ladder can do is undermine his conclusion.

To use Dr. Festinger's term, your offer to help simply attacks another's high opinion of themselves. People like to feel they are smart and capable. Your offer to help actually creates evidence contradicting this feeling. That contradiction creates cognitive dissonance.

This is why sales and marketing are so tough. Even when your product is fantastic! People are easily offended when you offer exactly the ladder you know they need.

If it's your job to sell ladders, remember. Your opportunity to help is resting in their opinions. And timing is everything.