Information is to behaviour change as spaghetti is to a brick

Published by Tony Quinlan on

The title of this post comes from Wilbert E. Fordyce, who worked with people in chronic pain. It fascinates me that professionals who work in life and death fields understand (and get frustrated by) the fact that when people need to change their behaviour to save their lives, it’s not enough to tell them why. Even when told of the dire consequences of their continuing current behaviours and given clear information on exactly what to change and how, they still continue in old patterns of behaviour. And, for instance in the case of heart attack patients, when the consequences should be enough to focus their minds completely.

So. Life-threatening consequences, the “burning platform” that Bill Quirke talks about as a pre-requisite to change, clear instructions on what to do and how, along with pictures of both positive and negative outcomes of change/not-change. And people don’t.

Doctors understand this, despite it being peripheral in many ways to their specialisation – they are, after all, paid to know about things other than how to communicate. Communicators, whose professional status is often bound up entirely in this, rarely do. There are still plenty of communicators who will sit back and try to craft the perfect change message time and again, despite plenty of evidence that it just doesn’t work like that.

I despair sometimes, even more so when I read the responses to Liam’s recent post.

Late edit: it seems the comments on Liam’s blog aren’t visible. So here’s a link to another blog that attracted a lot of comments about Liam’s original post.