Let’s talk truths and confirmation bias

The complexities of truth

I’m really intrigued by the concept of truth.

It’s probably because one of my core values is integrity, and so truth is part of that.

What I’m interested in, though, is the complexities around truth. As an indigenous woman, for example, I have a clear position that we each have our own truth, and no one has the right to say that their truth is more true than mine. It’s one of the reasons I don’t ever get involved in a whakapapa (genealogy) debate.

I know my whakapapa because it’s what my grandparents taught me. And they knew because theirs taught them. I have no reason to doubt the truth of their knowledge and their teachings to me.

I assume you gained your knowledge of your whakapapa in a similar way. If what you know is different to what I know, I’m never going to claim that what got handed down through the generations to you is any more or less true than what got handed down to me.

We both have our truth. I can live with that.

My whāngai (adopted) daughter has a truth that families aren’t safe.

That is not my truth. In fact my truth is the exact opposite – that family is my safe place to land. It’s my absolute security. It’s a guaranteed place where all is well. I don’t know how long it will be for her to develop a new truth about that, but I believe it’s possible.

I believe that one day her truth will be: I was raised in a family that wasn’t safe. I now know family can and should be a safe place.

Carver boy has a truth that humans often can’t be trusted.  It’s that you can usually expect the worst of people, and you won’t often be disappointed.

Again, my truth is the opposite – people are good. They’re all trying to do their best and be good humans, and if I trust them, I’m rarely disappointed.

ended my second marriage ultimately because my husband couldn’t be honest with himself. He wasn’t actually lying to me and those around us, because he believed the truth that he had constructed for himself to make his narcissistic universe a place he could live with.  It was a universe where he could never be to blame for the things that went wrong. It drove me crazy – me, with my core value of integrity – to watch him construct a reality that was in conflict with the evidence around us. He wasn’t a dishonest man – he built a truth (and believed it wholeheartedly) that wasn’t my truth and I couldn’t make it my truth.

Challenging our truths

On the other hand, I’d like to think I challenge my own truths regularly.

I once got a haircut that I loved, but people were staring at me. After a week I was ready to grow it out, even though I loved the haircut. I couldn’t handle the ‘truth’ that people were staring because they thought I looked weird or dumb or bad or attention-seeking or something.

But then I asked myself if my ‘truth’ was based on evidence or assumption.

I had NO WAY of knowing why they were staring (unless I asked, and I wasn’t going to do that!).

So I decided to do an experiment:

what if,

when I caught someone looking at me, I told myself they were staring because they loved my hair?  Just LOVED IT? What if I chose to believe it was an awesome hairstyle, and that other people agreed, and that catching them staring was evidence to support that?

I started walking with my head held higher. I started smiling at the people glancing my way. I’ve kept that hairstyle for YEARS. People tell me all the time how much they love it.

I built a truth that helped me feel good. Did I construct that truth for myself? Yes. And it’s a resourceful truth, and I’m keeping it.

So what?

So, confirmation bias

I guess I’m thinking about confirmation bias.

That phenomenon where we believe something is true, so we seek confirmation of it.

My daughter seeks confirmation that families aren’t safe, and finds it. Carver boy seeks confirmation that people can’t be trusted, and finds it. I sought confirmation that my hair was cool, and I found it.

So maybe you could check in on your truths occasionally.

  1. What is your truth?
  2. Is it a truth which is resourceful and helpful to you?
  3. If not, what would be a more resourceful truth? What evidence would confirm that for you? And can you start seeking it out?

What can you accomplish today?

Living with depression

I’ve lived with depression officially for 15 years but in truth probably closer to 20.

I’m all good with that. It’s part of me. We manage. I know how it works and what to watch for and what to do about it.

And when I’m having a low day/week/time, everything feels like too much.

Everywhere I look, there are things. Things I need to do. That I feel like I can’t do.

It makes me want to cry, sleep, eat and or drink myself sick. None of which are helpful, but some of which I still do sometimes.

The POWER to do ONE THING!

When I have the presence of mind, what I tell myself is to pick one thing.

Just one.

I’ll shower. That’s all I need to do. Or I’ll do the dishes. That’s all I need to do. Or I’ll pick up that thing off the floor that’s taunting me. Or I’ll drive to the supermarket and just get milk. Cos even though we really need a full grocery excursion, we can’t do without milk right now, so I’ll just get that. I don’t even need to put on a bra.

Just go.

Cos who the fuck cares what I look like? Only me.

These are the mind games I play with myself to survive the low times.

Pick. One. Thing.

Because one thing almost always leads to one more thing. And before you know it, you’ve adulted for a time. And the day passes. And tomorrow’s a new day.

So even if you’re not depressed, what’s one thing you can accomplish today? One simple thing? One thing you’ll be able to look back on as you go to sleep and pat yourself on the back and say, go you, you did that thing?

What can you accomplish today?

Are you brave enough to be happy?

I woke up this morning, looked at the beautiful man beside me, and thought, it doesn’t get much happier than this.

Gratitude

I’ve been doing the gratitude thing this year and there’s NO DOUBT it’s making me happier, kinder, less sweating the small stuff.

That’s absolutely one big reason I’m feeling so happy.

Being brave

But a really big reason I’m feeling so happy is that I have a good life. A life I worked damn hard to build myself.

A life I had to be fucking brave to get, over and over again.

I had to be brave enough to leave my first husband when he said he didn’t love me, and brave enough to keep living when he drowned soon after.

I had to be brave enough to leave my second husband and commit to being a single mother for all those years.

I had to be brave enough to be alone.

I had to be brave enough to build a house at home on our island so my children and wider whānau have a place to come home to. And so that while I work so hard on my business all year, I get a summer in paradise recharging, reconnecting, and reprioritising.

I had to be brave enough to walk away from my religion. The only worldview and culture I knew, so I could truly be me. And so I could be loved. And so I could feel the sun on my skin.

I had to be brave enough to admit what I wanted.

I had to be brave enough to resist when carver boy wanted to break things off. Brave enough to persist in our relationship. Brave enough (and patient enough) to wait four years for him to move in. Brave enough to risk another broken heart.

I had to be brave enough to say no to things that were tempting, but not right or good for me.

I had to be brave enough to set boundaries around my time and my contributions to others.

I had to be brave enough to charge what I’m worth.

I had to be brave enough to love and back myself.

It took a while, but I turned 45 this year, and I’m proud to say I’m brave enough to be happy.

Are you?

Sell them what they want, so you can give them what they need

OK, I need to take you on a little bit of a journey to explain what I mean here, so bear with me.

I have a background as an educator. I trained as a high school English teacher. I started teaching at universities at 21 years old.  I worked in indigenous tertiary education for 7 years.

I now train adults for a living.

Trainer. Teacher. Educator. Facilitator.

In the education sector we have strong feelings about all these words.

In the school of education, we frown on the word ‘train’ because there’s a history of seeing teaching as a vocation rather than a profession.

In indigenous education we prefer the word ‘facilitate’ because it rejects the ‘empty vessel’ pedagogy that has such close links with colonisation.

When teaching adults, we are less likely to use the word ‘teach’ for similar reasons – working with adults requires a more co-constructive, facilitative approach than a teacher-student model.

And yet.

I make good money as a corporate trainer because that is what companies are looking for. When adult participants come into a room with me they want me to teach them things. They are looking to me to have the expertise I can pass on to them.

But here’s the curveball: in a lot of ways, what I’m delivering to people when I train, teach, educate, or facilitate, is CONNECTION.

I teach people how to connect with other humans, because that is the foundation for all the other things we want to achieve.

Want to write better documents (Business Writing)? Connect with your readers.

Want to teach people better in the workplace (Train the Trainer)? Connect with your trainee.

Want to work better with other cultures (Cultural Competency)? Build a connection with those people.

You won’t hear me distil it like that in a training room.

So what does this have to do with marketing? And writing?

When we name a product or service, it’s natural to come at it from our own position:

  • What do I call this thing?
  • What is it, from my professional perspective, that I’m providing?
  • What words are acceptable in my industry?
  • What words will my peers see value and credibility in?

But that’s a mistake.

We also name our products and services based on the outcomes we know they’ll provide to people.

That’s also a mistake.

Because, ask any trainer or consultant and they’ll tell you:

What these people need is X, but they think they need Y. 

If I try to sell them X, they’re not interested.

But if I sell them Y, they’ll buy it, and that gets me in the door so that I can give them X.

If I only deliver Y they won’t be anywhere near as satisfied as if I give them X.

In a nutshell?

Ask yourself what your market is looking for.

What do they think they need?

And then label your product or service as that.

How to persuade and get buy-in

How not to argue

If you’re in an energetic discussion with someone, what’s a sure-fire way to get them to dig their heels in?

Flat-out tell them they’re wrong. Point out all the faults in their logic. Deny their point of view.

The more you do that, the greater the barrier between you. You’re building a wall (aye, Donald).

How to argue with a chance of winning

But if you want any chance of getting them to hear you, getting them to consider there’s a different way to look at the issue, if you want to be heard, they need to feel heard first.

To influence, persuade, and get buy-in to your ideas, you have to remove the barriers between you.  You have to create connection, clear some common ground, so that then the foundations of your reasoning can be built together, one block at a time.

But Shelly, how do you know?

I’m a writing trainer. You’d think I spend most of my time training people in the skills of good writing. But really, I spend most of my time winning people over.

I teach plain language. And plain language is the polar opposite of most of the ‘rules’ of good writing you learned at university. It goes against all the things you learned about using higher-level, more complex language to sound more intelligent, against the written voice you’ve always believed is what will give you credibility at work.

The people I train have had those ideas reinforced (and been rewarded for them) for years – often decades.  The only way I can get them onside is to make sure they feel heard, validated, affirmed in their position, and then gently persuaded to consider a different view. And to sit with that different view. To play with it. To experience it. And to decide for themselves.

I’m a professional mind-changer.

The principles are the same when writing

So, to be persuasive in your writing, you need to do those same things.

1. Acknowledge the reader’s position

Like in all good business writing, start with your bottom line up front. Tell them where the destination is before you start the journey. That’s always a thing. And then, address their concerns. In NLP it’s sometimes called objection inoculators. Don’t leave objections simmering away in the background. Address them straight up. Acknowledge them as real and valid.

2. Validate their concerns

There’s a careful balancing act here of acknowledging validity, showing you understand the thinking and can see that it’s a reasonable position, without adding fuel to the fire.

Try using phrases like:

  • It’s a common and understandable position…
  • We’ve previously believed…
  • Understandably, we have fears around…

3. Know their points of leverage

Here’s where intimate insight into your reader’s way of thinking becomes vital.  If you know your reader is swayed by financial benefits, address those – and do it hard. If you know they’re particularly concerned with efficiency, processes, streamlining, show them benefits related to those. If long-term strategy is their thing, focus there. Maybe it’s quality. Maybe it’s ego. Know your reader, and use what will sway them.

4. Emotion always plays a part

Again, it’s a careful balance. Most influencers in the workplace will respond negatively to writing that is overly emotive – we’re so used to being sold to through informercials and hard sales pitches. So don’t do that. But the occasional subtle and well-placed emotive word for impact will work. While we don’t want to overuse emotion, we also don’t want to fall into the trap of believing that there’s no place for emotions in business. That’s simply not true – humans run businesses. Humans are emotional. The end.

5. Everything else is an extra set of steak knives

After all that, hit them with all the bonuses.  All the added extras!

Once you’ve addressed their concerns and leveraged their wants and drivers, show them all the benefits they never even considered.

Make it too good to say no to.  Just too valuable, too beneficial.

Overpower their arguments – not by fighting against, but by winning over.

Ready to go?

Practice this in conversation. Then plan out a well-sculpted argument and write the damn thing.

You’ll never know whether you can win someone over if you don’t try.