Every now and again I read something which resonates, something which sets the little alarm bells ringing and puts a big grin on my face.
Put Feelings First on Fast Company is one of those articles – the link is to the online version and I read the offline version which is slightly different but the ethos, nevertheless, is the same. See something which accidentally or intentionally provokes and emotion, feel the emotion intensely, and as a result change an opinion or behaviour.
It doesn’t sound like rocket science. Yet it appears to be solving real world problems which have persisted and continue to do so without using this approach. The offline version which I will scan and link to from this post when I am not sat on a train whizzing through the West Midlands uses a powerful example – hand washing.
A Doctor in America on a flight home from somewhere tropical noted that the care and attention that the airline staff were giving to hand washing and cleanliness far exceeded the attention to detail which was being demonstrated in his home hospital – a big issue for obvious reasons. So he decided to try and do something about it – because he had seen proof that people could care about hygiene, and wanted to replicate that behaviour in another group of people.
So he went home, collared a few surgeons after lunch in the hospital canteen and asked them to place their hands in some petri dishes with nutrient agar prepared. That culture was taken away to develop and returned to the surgeons a few days later. Predictably, the emotion provoked was disgust – not only for the patients that they were about to touch and interact with before carrying out actual surgery but also for the fact that they’d just been tucking into turkey sandwiches with the same hands they’d placed in the dishes.
To further prove a point and spread the emotion, pictures of the worst were turned into screensavers and displayed on every desktop in the hospital. Handwashing rose to 100% across the board immediately, and has since mostly stayed there.
It resonates because I know it to be true. I know it to be manipulation but I also know it to be necessary when it comes to things like quitting smoking or doing more exercise. I’m qualified to talk about the motivators , can comment on what I see which triggers the emotional response in me to change. I’ve written about them repeatedly over on my other blog. See someone having fun and behaving the way you wish to behave, see someone like you doing something you didn’t think you could ever do, try it out, feel something intensely as a result, rinse, repeat, change. Become the thing you never thought you could become. People need reasons, identifiable reasons, to stop or start behaviours because we are creatures of habit, all of us, and change requires concerted conscious effort, stepping out of our 9-5 daily auto-pilots.
Shock tactics might look drastic, might look cruel – but I believe that in order to motivate people, sometimes you have to spark something deep inside them. You have to give them something to resonate with.
Turns out, being emotional might not be such a bad thing after all.
Great thoughts, Louise! Getting people to change their behaviors is one of the fundamental challenges behind so many things in life. I really like the see-feel-change approach because I agree that people need something more than the basic “you need/should do x.” Everyone likes to talk about changing behaviors or organizations or what have you, but implementing that change takes a lot more than just words. It has to be visceral, and sometimes, like you said, shock tactics are the only way to create those emotional impulses.
Interesting points. I would agree with ancient pedagogy that a good speech involves logos, ethos, and pathos (and hopefully not bathos). I think, in this instance, you mean pathos and not ethos.
-Just a friendly reminder from your neighborhood speech/classics geek!