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News & Media: Staff Columns

Facts aren't all they're cracked up to be - Seven steps to better communication

Tuesday, May 22, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Lauren Brey, director of marketing and research
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“Facts don’t persuade people, people persuade people.”

Tamar Haspel is passionate about helping those of us in food and agriculture better connect with others who don’t share our viewpoints.

She is a columnist for The Washington Post and writes about a variety of food supply issues including biotechnology, pesticides, nutrition, food policy and more. Haspel delivered her message at the Sustainable Agriculture Summit in November in Kansas City.

Although people think they make decisions by putting facts together, the reality is that decisions are made based on gut feelings, intuition and values, Haspel said. So-called confirmation bias rules the human psyche and we seek out information sources that confirm what we already believe. People find innovative ways to reject “facts” they disagree with. We make decisions based on values, so facts are not persuasive, she said. The idea that “if only they knew this information” would change people’s minds is incorrect.

So how do we overcome these challenges to convince people of our viewpoint? Haspel recommended small steps toward better communication:

1.       Be convinced. Elephant wrangling begins at home.

We must accept the human tendency to seek out information that supports our viewpoint ("confirmation bias") and then address the subjects we are biased about (our “elephants”) before we can attempt to address other people’s elephants.

One way to do this is to identify a position that you are wrong about. Or, think about times when you have changed your mind on an issue. This will help you make a stronger case for what you are trying to convince someone of.

2.       Reconsider bias. We all have it.

Everyone has biases because we are all human. Expecting people to be objective is unfair.

3.       Find the smartest person who disagrees with you and listen.

This will not only help you learn the best arguments for the opposing viewpoint, but it will help you temper your own opinions and become more open-minded.

4.       Identify the other sides’ strongest arguments.

This will help strengthen your own arguments and be better prepared for convincing someone of your viewpoint.

5.       Drop "anti-science" from your vocabulary.

There is science to support anything. Calling someone anti-science equates to calling them stupid, and that doesn’t help you achieve your goal of convincing them.

6.       Vet your sources. Manage your media.

It is vital to assess the credibility of news sources and seek out various points of view. Listen to news from sources you agree with and ones you may not.

7.       Reach across the aisle.

We are all human, and even if we disagree on what the facts are and what opinion is the “right” one, we can still connect on values. Talking about our stories and values with those who disagree with us will bring about more progress than just arguing the facts.

These steps are not necessarily easy, but the more we analyze our biases and look at all sides of an issue, the better chance we will have at changing the minds of others.


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