This article will help you craft messages in ways that target the full range of listeners' personal preferences in your audience.
Have you ever sat in a training session and heard the teacher attempt to explain an idea the same way over and over? Or perhaps you've sat through a presentation and felt the message just didn't connect with you?
Now imagine you are a fly on the wall in the teachers' staff room. "I don't know what's the matter with that kid, I've told him a thousand times and he just doesn't get it!".
Now it is true that sometimes a message is not relevant to a member of an audience. That's why it's important to screen would-be audience members and clearly and precisely state what a session will be about and how it will help; just like I did in the first sentence above.
In this article I'm really talking about adult learners but learning to pitch the same message in different ways and from different angles will help you improve your effectiveness with kids as well.
There are four domains that your message should reflect: behaviour, thinking, emotions and purpose.
"Just tell me what to do"
Some people just want to know what to do. So, take time to demonstrate (if you can) or paint a very clear description of what the desired behaviour needs to look like. You could show a video or use images to illustrate the point. Don't be subjective, be objective. Don't exaggerate, be precise. People need to know the minimum personal effort required to be a success. It needs to be doable. If an idea sounds grandiose, excessive or unrealistic, it will probably be dismissed out of hand. This can adversely impact the remainder of your message.
"There's nothing I can do" & "It won't happen to me"
Human beings are 'guided' and 'driven' by unconscious biases (unconscious thinking). There are at least 180 biases that are known in the world of cognitive psychology (see the Cognitive Bias Codex). There are two particular biases that form 'barriers' to change. The first is a deep-rooted belief that, "There's nothing I can do". A demonstration that the desired behaviour is doable, will go a long way to being persuasive. However, not all situations can be demonstrated. Take time to work through a range of scenarios and examples, drawing on the success and testimonial of others in the group, to leverage and reinforce your message. Warning. Don't attempt to identify and deconstruct an accident that has already happened to someone by asking "What could you have done differently?". This rarely works well in a group setting. Use hypothetical scenarios looking forward into the future. Example. If it rains on the way home tonight, how could you alter your ordinary driving style to reduce the chance of a crash?".
The second likely cognitive barrier is optimism bias. Most people believe that they are less likely to have bad things happen to them than people like them. They also believe that if something bad does happen, they will be more likely to recover than people like them. It's normal to think, "It's not going to happen to me". Being optimistic is great when applying for a job, but potentially disastrous when overtaking etc. Take time to explain how optimism bias can influence decisions subconsciously. Remember you can be safer by behaving more cautiously, but imagining it to be so, won't make it so. Craft your message with realistic statements like "driving with your headlights on will render you more visible and less likely to be involved in a crash". It's doable, and it's real.
"Sometimes I find myself rushing, and I don't know why"
Broadly speaking, as emotions elevate, positive or negative, so too does the willingness to accept risks. A discussion around emotional intelligence applied to specific scenarios can help. When you understand what can causes an emotional response, you can short-circuit, or lessen the negative behaviour that may follow. Crafting messages like, "Other people may not understand why you're slowing down", sets the scene for managing the emotions if they arise. If you know you're feeling emotional, you could change your plans or arrangements before putting yourself (and others) at risk. When you put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) remember to consider the person who is guided more by their emotions rather than their thoughts. Failing to consider how people feel about your message could cost you the entire presentation.
"I like to reflect on what's really important to me, in my life"
Broadly speaking, spirituality relates to being connected with something greater than oneself. It's about meaning and purpose. To more effectively connect with people who spend time in this conscious space, it can be useful to consider questions like "What is really important to me?", "Am I on track?", or "What legacy will I leave after I'm gone?". It's important not make judgements, rather ask questions that cause self-reflection or mindfulness.
So just telling somebody to 'be careful', won't work as well as showing them how to do it. Telling somebody to 'take a bit of ownership, or responsibility' won't work if they can't see and believe the part they play in future events. Telling somebody not to be 'optimistic' won't make any difference unless they can discern objectively between reality and their own hopefulness. Telling somebody to buy into your agenda probably won't work if it conflicts with a deeply held belief or individual sense of meaning and purpose.
So, telling isn't teaching! Why not try next time to incorporate elements that speak to behaviour, thinking, emotions and purpose, in your message?
If you’d like help understanding, applying, or sharing these principles, please ask. Cheers, Jeremy Williams www.drivertrainingaustralia.com.au
First published February 2022
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My dear colleagues in road safety, please take 'more than average' care during this awful COVID pandemic. Try applying Low Risk behaviours in other areas of you life. If you find yourself taking risks, ask your self, "How was I thinking at the time?". Was I "externalising", or was I thinking, "It won't happen to me"? We look forward to seeing you on the other side of this. Thanks for your continued support. Jeremy