Why people reject change

In January we experienced two public debates that reinforced the essential equation when influencing people to change behaviour; what they gain must exceed what they stand to lose.

Getting people to accept a proposed change

Two important issues have been hotly debated this past month –  whether to change the date of Australia Day and whether people should opt-out of My Health Record. 

This blog won’t be dealing with the merits of either. Instead I want to focus on what we can learn about how these issues have been framed by those seeking to get Australians to accept a change.

Australia Day

It is my view that those who want(ed) to have the date changed from 26 January needed to propose firm alternatives earlier in the discussion.  Much of the resistance has come from the sense of “losing” the 26 January, without any reassurance that another date would be suitable.  Rather than being framed as a shift to something, it was a changeaway from the status quo, and that can be uncomfortable.  Instead of framing the debate as whether it should be moved, advocates should ideally have framed it as which date to move it to.

My Health Record

My Health Record, a centralised database of personal medical information, is fast becoming a case study in how not to roll out an online service. What should have been good news has instead been drowned out by data security and privacy concerns. Whether these fears are justified is almost secondary to the perception that has taken hold, and in my view this is also largely due to poor framing.  The agencies responsible were either too late or too quiet and their message around the benefits of a record has simply not cut through. Last I heard over one million people had opted-out, and given we are predisposed to leave things as they are, this rate of activity signals a significant and unfortunate rejection of the system as it stands.

Lessons for you

When trying to get people to accept a change, whether it’s a customer moving from not buying to buying, a website visitor moving from not clicking to clicking, or a colleague moving from not producing to producing, you need to carefully consider how you frame the message. If they feel that they have more to lose than gain, there’s no way they’ll bother. Nullify their sense of loss and amplify their sense of gain and you’ll be much more likely to move together in a mutually beneficial direction.

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