December 18th, 2012
Good question. Once again, it’s about TRUST and LIKEABILITY. If the person seems like someone you wouldn’t trust or like, then no, they’re not helping anything. But that means you need to be a good judge of trust and likeability.
CREEPY IN, CREEPY OUT.
KAHNEMAN TO THE RESCUE
Yesterday some climate folks sent me this video asking my opinion. Is this woman’s testimony of any value? And what sort of criteria could you use to decide that?
My first instinct was to refer back to Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman’s concise and powerful assessment of communication in his talk to the NAS conference in May. He broke it down into three simple elements: evidence, trust, and likeability. His message was that all your evidence is of no value if people don’t trust and like you (which can also be reversed into the definition of a conman — someone with complete trust and likeability but no evidence).
In all the years I’ve spent interested in this communication stuff, that simple assessment from him is about the most useful. You need to carry it around and apply it to just about everyone to get an idea of their potential as a communicator. Do I trust this person? Do I like this person? And yes, I hate to tell you this, but the evidence element is fairly trivial. When you find an expert whom you trust and like, you don’t really need much evidence. Just think about doctors and financial advisors. How many people really need their doctor to provide the evidence justifying a prescription? Yes, maybe you’re critical about your doctors, but most people still aren’t. It’s how humans work.
This is the prime reason the “climate argument” made by scientists and environmentalists has been so unsuccessful. They have had this blind belief in the evidence, while failing to master the trust and likeability components. It’s what Kahneman was saying (you knuckleheads).
So the answer is a double “no” on the woman in this clip. Within FIVE SECONDS she comes across as weird with her quavering voice, overly-emotional (“Lady, it’s only a documentary about ice”), and lacking articulation (she doesn’t say ANYTHING specific about the movie — something that might help us understand why she’s on the verge of tears).
A PERSUASIVE FLIPPER
Still, it seems like it could be persuasive to produce people who changed their opinion on climate change if they radiated these two traits of trust and likeability. One example of this, very much, was Michael Shermer, who wrote his great essay, “The Flipping Point,” in the 2006 Scientific American, in which he said he read four good books on global warming which changed him from climate skeptic to climate concerned.
He radiates trust and likeability. I interviewed him for my movie “Sizzle” and felt like he was such a nice and decent guy, I didn’t even want to include him with all the folks we played our little (harmless) trick on, so he didn’t make the final cut. Just look at any interview with him — he projects these two key qualities. It’s not something he does intentionally, he just comes across as someone you can trust and like. These tend to be natural traits in people.
More importantly when it comes to the climate issue, what you really need are voices like the guy in the Obama commercial that I discussed a couple weeks ago. There’s your basic working class dude that really does present a persona and voice that’s prone to be widely trusted and liked by the very sort of average folks you’d like to persuade about the importance of climate change.
So, yes, testimonials of people who have changed their mind on climate do have the potential to be powerful. But they have to have these two attributes of trust and likeability. You can’t just use a privileged New Englander who speaks with a Boston Brahmin accent and pronounces the word, “can’t” as “cahnt.” That just doesn’t work.
And now I’m flashing back to the crap workshop on “Communicating Climate Change” I attended last year where they were showing footage of the head of a major environmental group, and talking about what a tremendous spokesman and communicator he is. Ack. Don’t get me started. I had to walk out of the session. It’s about voices of trust and likeability. No CEO of a major environmental group has this for average Americans. You have to be tone deaf to think they do. Don’t let them be the spokespersons for this very important issue. You need average Americans. Time to call Central Casting.