Facilitation Skills Training Part Three: Webinar with John Godec

John Godec was asked to give a facilitation skill training to the IAP2 via webinar. As this training was for a sold out group of members, we thought that you would enjoy having this training for yourself.

This is part 3 in the series. If you missed the earlier two parts, you may want to read the first installment here.

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Why Do People Believe What They Do?

Moving on here to another aspect of this subject: I find it really interesting. One of the more interesting characters I think that is dealing with the subject is professor Stephan Lewandowsky who has written about this extensively in the past is that we believe what we choose to believe. Lewandowsky studied decision making and beliefs in his career, and he’s identified some of the fundamental reasons that people tend to choose to believe what they believe.

Oftentimes what we believe is wrong. One of those falls into the category of rumor, fiction and melodrama. The facts – the data, the science and the planning information or the kind of work that most professionals do – is quite frankly pretty boring. Real people like to tell stories. We like to tell tales that elicit emotion from audiences. Neutral stories, which is the business that oftentimes many of us are in, is kind of boring. That creates a problem to begin with.

The second reason that people tend to believe things that are wrong is that we rarely know the difference between lies and truth. The fact to the matter is that in spite of our overestimation of ourselves, most of us don’t know when we are being lied to. It’s not something that we can typically spot consciously. There is more evidence and there is increasing evidence to suggest that intuitively, emotionally, we tend to have a sixth sense around us.

How Do We Know What’s True?

Relying on our instincts to figure out what’s true and what’s not is something that we have to recapture. The third reason why people tend to believe things that are wrong obviously has to do with news media. It’s where I came from; my original career was in journalism, dealing with news media. I was a reporter for a period of time. The media has changed obviously over the years. Media now is in a world of kind of inappropriate, oversimplification or simplification is certainly part of the business. But the news cycle, the extraordinary level of competitiveness, the number of broadcast publications out there – the internet, news sources – tends to oversimplify things.

Plus people have shorter and shorter attention spans so that oversimplification tends to indeed grow. There needs to be some semblance of balance. Media is always looking for some kind of objectivity, at least credible journalism is looking for some kind of credibility. If it appears that 95% of climate scientists have agreed that the climate is changing due to human activity, the media is still going to find out the fact that there may be 5% of those folks out there, that simply do not.

Then if you go to the fourth reason why people tend to believe things that are wrong, part of it has to do with new media – obviously internet. When you Google anything, you are gonna wind up with all kinds of things that come out of the woodwork. If you are looking at the top 50, this is through some research done fairly recently by a university – Lewandowsky talks about it in the book. If you do a weight loss diet search, 50 sources may come up, but only three of those had any credible advice whatsoever.

There is another aspect of this. That has to do with confirmation bias, which I suspect that many of you are probably familiar with. Basically confirmation bias suggests that once you find something that you believe is indeed true, you tend to look only for evidence that supports what you already believe. People tend to seek information that supports their existing point of view, and we tend to dismiss anything to the contrary. Once we’ve decided this is indeed the fact, this is indeed truthful, or this is indeed what we are gonna continue to believe, that’s what we’re gonna stick with. Guarding against that confirmation bias for those in the business is critically important.

Getting real people not to lean on their own confirmation bias is going to be very difficult. And it gets to this next point as well, why people believe things that are wrong. Very few people tend to seek truth. We tend to lean on whether or not it tends to feel right. Does it already square with what I think? Again, going back to the confirmation bias example. Does it really make sense? If things are too complicated, people tend to dismiss those complicated things as probably lies.

We tend to look at things, is the source really believable. The source of information authority is an interesting case here. There was a time when we tended to look at government institutions and other large institutions as being authoritative sources. We tended to look at people with advanced degrees. People with some kind level of credibility in an objective sense as being authoritative sources.

Who Are Authoritative Sources?

That, for whatever particular reason, has fallen by the wayside. The bottom line is that if you look at sources of authoritative information for most people, most people tend to believe that those that they believe are people like them. We tend to listen to our friends. We tend to listen to our relatives, we tend to listen to people who believe as we believe, and we tend to see them as authoritative sources of information.

Again, it goes back to the bottom bullet point here. We look to see who else believes what it is that I’m trying to figure out whether or not I believe. If it’s something that my people, my tribe, my compatriots, my friends believe, then I’m gonna tend to go along with what they think. Again, I don’t think it terribly serves us well to ignore the fact that biology – going back to what we talked about originally about here – and our human behavior, ignoring the fact that it plays an important role. I don’t think does any of us much good.

Opinion Poll 4: Do People’s Emotions Play a Role?

Failing to consider it or failing to try to understand it better and deal with it, really doesn’t help our cause very well at all. Let’s go to the next poll question if we can here.

Emilia: Do you believe people’s moods, or emotions play a role in if or how they engage? Yes or no?

There you go, John, 98% of the people on the call believe that yes, moods or emotions definitely play a role in how they engage.

John Godec: There we go. I guess the bottom line is that it is incumbent upon us in our business and in our profession to learn to deal with this, and recognize it. I will tell you that I suspect a few years go, I’m not sure that we would have gotten that 98% number. I think an awful lot of people believed that it really wasn’t a big deal. It really didn’t play much of a role in what it is that we do for a living. Coming up to what I believe are some of the conclusions here. I’m gonna go through these conclusions relatively quickly and then kind of open it up for questions if you’ve got some thoughts. I’d be interested in seeing your thoughts.

The solutions really are to recognize the fact that what we are talking about is heart and mind, and you can’t deal with people’s objective reasoning. You can’t get people engaged in making good, objective, rational decisions without first dealing with their emotional states. If they are angry or they are frightened – and those two emotions are very closely aligned – you need to deal with that first. Persuasion, which is a big part of what we do. Persuading people to even engage, I think, is an honorable thing to do. Persuading people and influencing people in any particular way begins with recognizing that you’ve got to appeal to their empathy–appeal to their emotions. That requires empathy on our part, your part, and respecting and compassion, and really understanding and dealing with people’s emotions even when they are angry at you.

It’s incredibly important to be very careful of the advocacy trap. We are getting into this right now, where there is a really fine line between advocacy and objectivity. Public participation looks at things that are very equal plane.

I think that we are seeing now politically the marriage between public policy and politics. People have become, I think, extremely confused between what’s good public policy and what is just politics. Politics tends to peddle points of views. We’re going to have to be careful about allowing ourselves to fall into that trap. It’s gonna be critically important, it is critically important to not just look for evidence that confirms our own beliefs. We’ve got to be very very careful with what we do to guard against the whole idea of confirmation bias.

We are gonna have to work very hard to appeal to people’s values and moral positions, not just statistics not just data, not just evidence, which is where it starts. Debating the concern, not necessarily the facts, is going to be critical here. Recognizing that what people believe is what they believe. It’s something that you have to honor, something that you simply have to respect, and staying curious about that. And, of course, telling truthful stories.

Better approaches fall down along these lines. If you look at the biology and chemistry of the way that people believe – their emotions et cetera – a couple of the things have come out of that … some of the better approaches, and some of the things that we learn from this … is that learning new information allows some people to expand their understanding. It causes a lot of other people to pull back into their comfort zone. Just presenting new information, just giving them new data, causes people to shy away from that.

Speaking to conservatives, for instance, about gay marriage, really requires a focus on stability and morality and how gay marriage wouldn’t necessarily interrupt their lives or their beliefs, because people who tend to self identify as conservative tend to look at traditional roles.

Conversely if you try to speak to liberals about something like gun control for instance, that’s probably gonna require a focus on thinking about things in a new, novel, compelling kind of way, because people who self identify as liberal tend to enjoy novelty. They tend to gravitate toward things that are indeed novel, where conservatives really tend to shy away from things that tend to be novel. They are more interested in focusing on tradition, where liberals tend to shy away from things just because they are traditional, or just because something is traditional doesn’t necessarily make it better.

Keeping in mind those two schools of thought is extremely helpful. The bottom line that what we are talking about here is that character still counts. At the end of the day, trustworthiness is absolutely critical through our goals and being able to maintain that level of trustworthiness, and that level of credibility is critical.

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