Thursday, November 01, 2012

We see the world as WE are, not as it is: Global PR Summit

Do you see yourself? Or what's really there?

This morning at the Global PR Summit the panel that most captured my attention was this: "Persuasion, empathy and neural coupling: Where PR meets Dr Spock". 

Don't let the fancy title confuse you. The take-home was pretty basic, as per this post's title. 

We see the world through "me-coloured" glasses

One panellist presented what seemed like very robust proof that we do in fact see the world (or specifically, information) as we are, not as it is.

Georgia State University's Jason Reifler shared research that underscores just how subjective we are in our judgements about information - in particular information that, while accurate, contradicts what we already believe.

Our prevailing views, at least when they relate to politics, which was the subject of his research, whether right or wrong, seem to win out over the truth almost all the time. Why? Simply because we are so fixed in our views of ourselves that information that contradicts who we think we are (ie information that while correct, is at odds with what we believe and thus our self-identity) is more likely to provoke a response of denial.

This isn't a newsflash to most of us.

Think of these situations in one to one communication: surprising negative performance feedback; unpleasant truths about those we care for, or the "devil's advocate" colleague who experiences a certain withdrawal by colleagues.

Or, in the case of the research cited, populations who don't want to believe the reality of the employment track record of the political party on the other side of the fence to their own views. 

So what do we do with this as communicators?

In many ways the real news was this: when people are feeling good about themselves they are MORE open to facts that run counter to existing beliefs.

Hence what the psychologists and HR folk call the "warm start" when giving feedback one on on. 

You know the drill: I really appreciate that you do "x". What I want you do do more of/stop doing/modify is "y". "Y" isn't helpful because of "a, b & c". Can we talk about this more?....Great. In closing I want to remind you how great it is that you do "x".

The BlueChip Communication team call this the "sh1t sandwich". It's a good format for some people to hear feedback but can appear clumsy and patronising to those who recognise the format and just want to get to the feedback bit.

That said Reifler's research shows that this same format works on the larger, mass communication, scale. And I've seen it used many many times by CEOs in financial services giving the standard "call to arms" address to staff. The format, at some very basic level, is to tell people how capable they are, then ask for them to step up. Then of course the close involves reminding them again how great they are. 

A simple way to more open minds

Why do this? Because it makes people more open to what you say after "you're great". So the "warm start" actually warms our brains up to hear information we need to hear - but may well be completely at odds with current beliefs.

Personally I think this simple finding is profoundly useful to communicators. As Reifler said, we should use this knowledge for good, rather than evil!

In particular he found graphs seem more effective at bringing people around to more accurate perspectives. 

And as for our vulnerability to mis-information? As per the picture in the twitter screen shot at the top of this post, here are some of the ways we see things through those "me-coloured glasses"...we:

  • select like-minded media sources
  • reject unwelcome corrections
  • continue being influenced after corrections
  • use familiarity as a heuristic for accuracy.

This last one is similar to behavioural finance finds that suggest people are more likely to choose mutual fund (managed fund) investment options that are offered more frequently ie we also mistake frequency or simply numbers for merit in investment choice.


Here are a few select tweets from the session. One other stunning finding from Raymond Mar of Canada's York University was that reading fiction significantly helps us understand other humans - more below.

"Frequent fiction readers do better with social abilities." Fictionshapes the brain - Raymond Mar on  neuro panel
RT : Frequent fiction readers do better with social abilities.Fiction shapes the brain-Raymond Mar  neuro panel 
More from neuroscientist Raymond Mar  session ("Your brain on fiction") see 
 Prof Raymond Mar: Narrative fiction world of books & film is cognitive/emotional simulator that creates increased empathy skills
  Theory (tested quantitatively) holds: ppl who read more fiction develop better empathy (books = flight sim 4 brain)

 neuro session- Raymond Mar on  panel "frequent fiction readers do better with social abilities." Fictionshapes brain
Theory: ppl who read a lot of books (fiction) are better at understanding other humans  Now that's extraordinary. NB TV NOT same

Raymond Mar  ‘Our experience reading fiction is similar to flight simulator' explaining impact of stories on brain
ExpandTheory: ppl who read a lot of books (fiction) are better at understanding other humans  Now that's extraordinary. NB TV NOT same

 I am attending the Global PR Summit in Miami on behalf of BlueChip Communication.

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