I’ve often wondered why, when facts are so clearly available, people choose to believe alternative views. I remember attending an event arranged by my son’s primary school where they explained something about the way humans learn that demonstrated to me why there should be such a disparity between the facts and people’s opinions.
They described an experiment where a group of nine year olds were given a very simple set of information which was that 50% of eligible pupils in Africa do not attend school even though they are entitled to do so and the reason this was the case is that most schools in Africa make a small charge for children to attend and the parents simply couldn’t afford that charge.
20 minutes later they then set a multiple-choice question to the same group of pupils which asked the following question
Why do 50% of children not attend school in Africa?
- their parents cannot afford the school fee
- the school is too far away from home and they cannot get there on time
- the children are frightened of being eaten by Lions.
Despite being given the facts earlier, most of the children opted for option C, demonstrating that people are far more attracted to dramatic answers than factual ones.
You could argue that this only applies to 9 year olds but as you grow up people become more sophisticated and are able to see through this. However, I have to say, given recent reactions to vaccines against COVID-19 and other public discussions, I’m not sure that people do get more sophisticated as unfortunately dramatic answers seem to be given far more weight than factually correct ones.
When communicating with staff particularly on issues which are controversial, It is important to recognise this in the messaging you are giving out to your employees. Concentrating on dramatic and emotional issues can easily backfire, so it is best to remain factual in communications with staff and if you are receiving an emotional response trying to get to the root of what this response is about. However if you do receive an emotional backlash, don’t join in however frustrating it may be.
This has been particularly difficult issue amongst our clients in the care sector. They must take decisions on the bass of the risk of infection amongst the residents, who are extremely vulnerable. Staff who fail, or refuse, to take steps that will keep the residents safe will unfortunately have to face the consequences of their choices or inaction.