One Area of Science Social Change Leaders Overlook

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Science has been used a lot as a rallying cry lately.

It makes sense.

There is a clear and scientific reason that we should care about:

• Vaccination

• Climate change

• Debunking conspiracy theories

But there is one area that social change leaders seem to be consistently anti-science, in practice anyway.

The Un-Scientific Approach To Training

When it comes to training, leaders in our social change efforts use methods that are –according to science– ineffective.

We use facts and figures to try to persuade.

Muster charisma to try to convince.

Tell people they are wrong using statistics and hope they’ll see the light.

But the science is clear: This. Doesn’t. Work.

Cognitive scientist and linguist George Lakeoff puts it like this,

“…it should be true that if you just get the facts out to people, they will reason to the right conclusion. And so year after year, decade after decade, liberals keep telling facts to conservative audiences without changing many minds. This behavior by liberals is itself a form of science denial—the denial of the cognitive and brain sciences. It is simply irrational behavior by many people proud of their rationality.”

Rather than convince others of your side, you are more likely to do the opposite: people become more resolute in their beliefs.

So much for moving people to action!

What to Do Instead

This is important to keep in mind not only when talking to the opposition, but with your own team and members as well.

If you want your team to adopt a new practice, for example, sharing facts and figures may not be the best strategy.

Instead, try to understand what is getting in the way of taking effective action and design a training that is relevant to their specific challenges.

In your training try showing instead of telling, engaging instead of presenting, and asking instead of explaining.

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Riahl O’Malley and Indira Garmendia, co-founders