People Believe What They Want to Believe

Kachina Shaw

How many times have you seen this posted on Facebook in the last couple of days?

“In response to the new Facebook guidelines I hereby declare that my copyright is attached to all of my personal details, illustrations, comics, paintings, professional photos and videos, etc. (as a result of the Berner Convention).

For commercial use of the above my written consent is needed at all times!

(Anyone reading this can copy this text and paste it on their Facebook Wall. This will place them under protection of copyright laws. By the present communiqué, I notify Facebook that it is strictly forbidden to disclose, copy, distribute, disseminate, or take any other action against me on the basis of this profile and/or its contents. The aforementioned prohibited actions also apply to employees, students, agents and/or any staff under Facebook's direction or control. The content of this profile is private and confidential information. The violation of my privacy is punished by law (UCC 1 1-308-308 1-103 and the Rome Statute).

Facebook is now an open capital entity. All members are recommended to publish a notice like this, or if you prefer, you may copy and paste this version. If you do not publish a statement at least once, you will be tacitly allowing the use of elements such as your photos as well as the information contained in your profile status updates.”

And how many times have you posted a link to Snopes.com with the origins of this false claim?

Think you’re getting through to your friends about the guidelines they agreed to when they signed on as Facebook users? Think they even read the whole text of their copy-and-paste job before they slapped it up as their latest status, believing they had just pulled the legal wool over Zuckerberg’s eyes? Chances are, the answer to both questions is no.

But don’t blame your friends. Blame human nature. You can probably easily find an example in your own behavior (or in your users’ behavior, if you prefer):

People believe what they want to believe.

As shown in one study on beliefs about whether it is better to send young children to outside daycare or not, described in Psychology Today, it’s basically a circular thought pattern, and we apply it to all aspects of our lives, from personal to work:

… people are biased to interpret the evidence in ways that are consistent with their desires. That means that people may ultimately come to believe that the weight of evidence supports the position that they already wanted to believe was true.  And they will believe this without recognizing that their own desires influenced the evaluation of the evidence.

Clearly, in the work environment, the risk is that erroneous information is disseminated and absorbed, leading to potentially damaging behavior, from careless use of resources, to improper sharing of intellectual property. If a user’s day-to-day duties will be simpler to perform if they operate under mistaken beliefs about requirements that do, in fact, apply to them, it is so easy to believe that they don’t actually apply.


What to do? Another tidbit about human nature shows us that the most effective counter action may be to prevent users from soliciting and accepting erroneous information from their ill-informed coworkers and colleagues in the first place. For once an incorrect belief is in place, it’s very hard to displace it. One memory test, conducted by researchers at Duke University and Carnegie Mellon University, found that subjects who strongly believed their answers on a test were correct then absorbed and retained the corrected answers — but only for about a week. Without repetition beyond that point, subjects tended to revert to their incorrect answers again.

There’s nothing wrong with repetition of policy information, but perhaps the need for it could be reduced by cutting off bad information sources earlier. Grabbing new employees on their first day and educating them on policies and procedures with a combination of written, verbal and graphic presentations is ideal, but you won’t get that chance with most users. And since no policy is static, you’ll eventually face cascading bad info from all quarters. In fact, your most senior users might inadvertently be passing along incorrect information to coworkers if they have not been exposed to updated policies and procedures often enough or recently enough.

So, be the authoritative source and get there first. Follow that up by skewing the bulk of your policy refresh efforts toward the most senior users and you may find that they become effective sources of correct policy information for coworkers. Rinse and repeat.



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