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What change agents can learn from vaccines

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As discussion around the future of work has intensified it has encouraged a degree of introspection around the various practices and habits that make up our workplaces.

There’s a whole lot of logic behind the argument that we can, and indeed must, do things in a better way, but that change process is notoriously difficult, and so it wouldn’t surprise me if progress was rather slow.

You might be thinking the vaccine analogy would be about beating the immune system of the organization and getting your change through, but I’m thinking rather more literally than that.

You see, the logic behind getting a flu vaccine is as compelling as that for changing how we work, yet stats suggest that not far shy of 1/2 of all Americans wrongly believe that getting the flu jab gives you flu.  This no doubt contributes to the worryingly large number who refuse to have any kind of vaccination.

Of course, the reality is that the flu vaccine doesn’t give you the flu.  The interesting part comes in what you do next.  Should you correct that person with more accurate information, and will that help change their mindset?

A recent study suggests you might actually end up doing more harm than good.  The researchers discovered that around 1/4 of their sample were concerned about the side effects of the flu vaccine.

However, when they showed this group data from the Center for Disease Control which corrected their mistake, it resulted in a fall in the number of them who intended to get the vaccine.

It emerged that when the researchers corrected the mistake, people simply came up with other concerns to replace the original one, thus maintaining their original point of view.

The authors suggest this might be down to what’s known as motivated reasoning.  This suggests that we’re quite open to persuasion and change, just so long as the change fits in with our existing beliefs.  If it doesn’t, good luck.

So what can you do about this?  Well, research suggests that one approach could be to firstly avoid restating the myth.  If that isn’t possible however, we should precede the statement with a warning that misleading information is coming.

The authors suggest this approach could help to stop myths forming out of little more than familiarity.

If you couple this with your alternative explanation, it supposedly fills in the gap left by the myth.

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