The Problem with Free Speech

by Sean Foster | March 17, 2022 | Newsletter

Sometimes we need a disaster to unite people, but do we?

Understanding the Backfire Effect

A few days ago, I decided to check in on an associate I have known for a very long time. They are part of a minority ethnic group living in China. I wanted to know what is their stance on what is happening in the Ukraine? Unsurprisingly, they believe that evil NATO should keep their noses out of this little squabble happening between neighbouring countries.

What was more surprising is that I got a video forwarded to me a few hours later from two different friends in NZ. The video clearly showed that Putin had discovered secret documents linking Australia and Ukraine and potential bio-warfare initiatives. The Russians had made the bust and exposed what is really happening behind the scenes. Some will believe this is Russia to the rescue, others will believe this is false media.

How do you make sense of this all? And the reality is that this thinking is even happening in your business at so many levels.

Then I came across this article that shed some light on the science of what is happening in the minds of us fickle humans. You can find the article here, it is worth the read.

PS. You really should read it!

I am not going to recite the numerous experiments that have been conducted over the decades, but will state that I have absolutely no doubt that what is covered in this article is not a hypothesis, an idea or mere speculation: it is how we as humans think, respond and behave.

This is the short version:

The Misconception: ‘When your beliefs are challenged with facts, you alter your opinions and incorporate the new information into your thinking.’

That’s right, that is the misconception, well besides for you. You are clear, rational thinking and really make up your opinions based on sound experience, evidence and rational thinking. How does that ad go: ‘Yeah right!”

The Truth: ‘When your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger.’


The implications of this.

I could talk ad nauseum about the political hot topics of recent, but I will keep this business focused.

How do you introduce potentially controversial topics, tasks or commitments into the workplace when you know everyone is not onboard with this? How do you mitigate the destructive internal politics that so easily creep into business? How do you go about reuniting a divided team?

The logic we ALL rely on is to take a rational approach to managing the situation. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t. This is usually where dependency comes into play. A resolution is more likely to be found if co-dependency exists and the parties are ‘forced to compromise or to seek understanding.

However, in the majority of situations the ‘Backfire Effect’ occurs, and this is really driven by masked ‘irrational’ thinking. Yeah, guess you will need to read that article now to truly appreciate and better understand the Backfire Effect.

The solution?

I am not sure there is one, certainly the article did not spell one out.

Rarely can you make peace or develop appreciation during the heat of an argument. But it is possible to get these outcomes sometime afterwards. It is the same with opinionated views.

The rational mind will throw ‘logic’ at the argument, however the backfire effect merely takes hold, and both parties become more entrenched in their beliefs. The only solution to this dilemma is encouraging more people to become more self-aware, and certainly for them to be exposed to this research on the Backfire Effect.

My rationale here, is that if you can recognize the Backfire Effect taking place, then you at least have a hope of managing it.

Just like the fable about the man throwing starfish back into the sea, one at a time, despite there being millions of starfish that cannot be saved. How many people can you influence to become more self-aware? To encourage them to understand that the Backfire Effect affects us all. For a better world we need to better develop our human diagnostics in relation to how we read the world, the politics in our office, even our personal relationships with our loved ones.

We live in a democratic society, thank goodness. But how free is the press, how free is our speech? Maybe not as much as you would like to think, but not because of sinister politicians or clandestine organizations, but rather because of the Backfire Effect.

My challenge to us all: Let’s acknowledge and commit to seeing when this phenomenon is in force.


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