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The British Psychological Conference 2020


Listening to Stephen Reicher talk at the British Psychological Conference, I reflected on the role of communication driving change.

An advisor to the English and Scottish Government, he talked about loo rolls! Panic buying wasn’t irrational. Based on what the media was telling us about what everyone was doing, it was a sensible, rational choice in response to the information we were provided with. The poor choice of communication made the problem worse.

Human fragility is often blamed for failures. We stop giving people the information they need, believing they won’t cope, or we deliver it ineffectively. But evidence shows it’s a lack of information and belief that causes people to undermine guidance. When there is good reason, people are willing to suffer, particularly when we identify as part of a group with the same purpose.

So, leadership has a critical responsibility to communicate fully, collaborate with employees and develop a culture of honesty and trust. We need to encourage transparency and vulnerability and leave behind the tiered, protective system of traditional leadership. Only then will policies and practice be well-informed, realistic and likely to support real behaviour change.

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