Decision-makers arent' acting as we'd like: Three reasons

Oct 23, 2017

It can be so frustrating. We showed them the data. We shared the research with them. They heard the stories. But, still they don’t agree.

“They” are the people making the decisions regarding the public policies that impact children’s health. And they are people. Legislatures don’t make decisions. Businesses, schools, or governments don’t make decisions. People make decisions.

The data, the research, the stories were so convincing to us. That is why these issues matter to us. But, is that really what motivates us? Or, was it how it made you feel? (Frustrated, angry, excited) Or, was it because you saw an opportunity to make a real difference that you couldn’t make before? Or, because of your own experiences and values it was simply in your self-interest to get involved? Or, maybe it was who asked you to take that first step. Maybe, if we better understood our own motivations, we’d be more successful impacting others. Why do we think it is the facts that will motivate them when it is seldom what motivates us?

From my own experience I’ve discovered that, in general, when decision-makers aren’t acting as we’d like, it is because of one of three reasons.

  1. They don’t know there is a problem. Or they don’t know how severe or prevalent it is.
  2. They don’t know what to do about the problem.
  3. They don’t care about the problem (as much as we do). It is not a priority to them.

Our default response is to believe they really are in category #1 or 2. “If they just knew about our issue.” “If they just understood our data.” “If they only understood how our program works.” When this doesn’t work, and because we ignore the second half of #3, we conclude, “they just don’t care.”

Upton Sinclair once said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on not understanding.” We often forget this. Elected officials do not.

Ask an elected official how they approach a colleague to support one of their priorities, as we did at a recent HealthConnect Fellowship Cohort gathering, and you will hear that their default response is #3. What does the colleague care about? (What is their passion?) Can I help them get something they want (possibility/opportunity for success/self-interest)? Are there any favors I can call in? (value of the relationship). In other word, where is their leverage?

They find a way for their colleague to see that is in their interest to support them. “Self-interest” is often used synonymously with "selfish". I think they are different.

Selfishness: interest in oneself to the exclusion of others.

Self-interest: interest in self in relation to others.

We need to recognize this distinction. Look for where we have leverage and use it with decision-makers as they use it with each other.

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