Let me ask you a question. What do these concepts have in common?
Prevention, compliance, marketing, sales, assertive communication, setting limits, and incentives.
Look closely. The commonality may not be obvious because they are each associated with diverse areas of endeavor including medicine, business, interpersonal relationships, morale building and parenting.
They all involve efforts to influence the behavior of others. What’s interesting is that each of these areas have their own literature, consultants, theories and vocabularies. And many of the people who work in these areas are not aware that everything they are doing is an effort to influence the behavior of another person or group.
As a result, we have no coherent system for identifying the best strategies for getting someone to do what we want them to do. Now, some may resist the idea that they are trying to get someone else to behave as they wish but honestly, isn’t that really what we’re all trying to do most of the time? Get someone to do what we want them to do?
Think about it. Parents want children to do as they’re told. Teachers want students to learn. Marketing firms want people to buy the products they represent. Doctors and insurance companies want patients to take their medication, lose weight and stop smoking. Employers want their employees to show up on time, be polite, and avoid injury. The police want people to obey the law.
I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. If we all have the same goal of influencing behavior, doesn’t it make sense that we seek out the best strategies to accomplish it? Or at least increase the likelihood that behavior will actually change in the direction we desire?
Many interests groups have found out that telling a story can actually make a difference in the choices other people make. Parents and marketers are probably the best at it. Parents have told stories with lessons embedded in them forever. Think Grimm Fairytales and Cinderella. Marketers consistently tell stories through advertising. Commercials are often stories, 30 seconds long. Neither relies very much on rational arguments.
On the other hand, the medical profession hasn’t figured it out quite yet. Physicians and insurers still rely almost exclusively on providing reasons for change no stories are allowed it seems. The bottom line is this. Let’s be honest about the fact that we all spend a great deal of time and effort trying to get other people to do what we want them to do.
Storytelling and narrative, which appeal to emotion rather than reason, are effective strategies for changing behavior when developed and used appropriately. They work in part because people don’t argue with stories like they do with facts and reason. Stories suspend disbelief and silence the skeptic.
That opens the door for change. Something to consider.
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