Fighting Fear with Facts: Change Management is Never Easy!

We’re scared lately — of global warming, of terrorism, of changes in health care, of potential tax hikes in the face of the looming budget deadline.

Many leaders are fighting our public anxiety with facts, and it’s ironic and a little frustrating how ineffective facts are in the face of fear.

Repeating verifiable facts hasn’t quieted the anxiety of anti-Obamacare pundits and fearful citizens.

We can’t seem to get to the point that Carlson makes so succinctly in this cartoon: that for some people, there’s a disconnect between the things we love about the new plan and the fact that they don’t trust or like Obama. Even in the Romney-Obama presidential debate, when Romney agreed with everything Obama proposed about the new plan, and even touted his Massachusetts mirror of the new federal plan, Republican rhetoric ended up criticizing the very thing that was just praised as just and fair.

And the uproar about the so-called socialist policies Obama proposes would be forty times louder if entitlements like Medicare and Social Security were threatened. In the face of facts — that all three of these programs rose out of a need to address a changing nation and build a safety net, Republican rhetoric breeds fear that makes the facts hard to hear.

Facts vs. Fear: Why can’t we calm down?

The Facts:

The Affordable Care Act, which is being implemented in stages, has already benefited many people (including myself — I pay for my own insurance, and the law forced BlueCross BlueShield to remove a cap on total services that would have bankrupted me if I had become seriously ill, despite the very high deductable and co-pays I already contribute in addition to my premium).

If you want to find out step by step how it might affect you, there’s a very user-friendly program here. You can read the full law and get questions answered here.

The Fear:

CHANGE! TAXES! FEES! NEW RULES FOR DOCTORS AND INSURERS! TOO MANY QUESTIONS! COMPLICATIONS! COSTS RISING! DIFFERENT WAYS OF EVALUATING MY NEEDS FOR TESTS AND SURGERIES! IT’S ALL TOO MUCH! AND I HEAR THAT (fill in the blank) WILL MAKE IT IMPOSSIBLE TO (fill in the blank!) I HATE IT!

It’s very hard to calm fear with fact because people who are afraid are usually overwhelmed – with information, with economic pressures, with uncertainty. And facts create a sense of  responsibility and a need for rational measurements that are not easy to balance when emotions are high. Facts are only reassuring when we’re not panicking.

Leaders need to mix facts with stories in order to reach emotions as well as the mind!

Put it like this USA Today editorial does, for example, and see the way stories give facts a context that softens fear:

“Many of the people who will be helped already know exactly how: They have pre-existing medical conditions and can’t get insurance. Or they have a desperately sick child, have blown through their insurance policy’s lifetime limit and now have enormous bills they can’t pay. Or they’ve fallen seriously ill, only to have their insurance company cancel their coverage on a technicality.

But a lot of the people who’ll be helped by the law don’t have a clue — not now, at least. They’re the people who think their health insurance is forever — until they’re laid off. Or the people who’ve never been sick and think they can get by with a bare-bones “mini-med” policy that turns out to be worthless after they’re in a serious car accident or come down with cancer. Or the people with perfectly good insurance who don’t realize they’re paying a hidden tax on their policies — more than $1,000 a year per family, according to one estimate — that goes to cover the cost of health care for those without coverage.

Under the law known as ObamaCare, those perverse, destructive practices will end — and the U.S. will at last begin to catch up to every other modern industrial nation that has found a way to guarantee medical coverage to virtually all of its citizens.”

No one argues that the plan is perfect. But the plan can’t be corrected if we can’t perceive it!

The most persuasive change management strategy is a combination of story, fact and personal connection.

Leaders who depend only on facts reach rationalists. Leaders who spin stories without fact reach idealists. Leaders who trade on personal connections create loyalty, but if that’s all they have to trade with, they can’t maintain their power.

Leaders who combine facts, stories and personal connections as a change management strategy can shape perceptions, policies and possibilities. More importantly, these leaders can support healthy change, cutting through the fear that followers quite naturally have when they’re facing uncertainty.

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