For professional communicators, the Oxford dictionary 2016 word of the year – post-truth – is a game changer.
Post-truth: an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.’
The US election campaign clearly demonstrated this new reality when feelings proved to be more powerful than facts in influencing the thoughts and behaviour of the public.
Neuroscience tells us that when receiving communications our brains use filters, paying attention and acting according to these filters.
To help communicators successfully engage and connect with others, the Maritz Institute developed a communications model based on these filters.
First, there’s interest vs. effort. When receiving a communication, the first reaction of our brains is to determine whether it’s worth the effort, favouring messages that present the most interest and the least effort.
Other filters relate to emotion (such as our feelings and values), history (including our past experiences and memories), the future (our expectations, goals, hopes), and our social situation (such as economic status, family, traditions).
Truth, facts, accuracy – none of these are top filters as far as our brains are concerned. Moreover, social media blurs the boundaries between fact and fiction.
So if we want to capture attention, engage people and build relationships in a post-truth era, neuroscience suggests we should communicate with messages that are simple, emotionally appealing and relevant to recipients’ experiences and expectations.
Of course, if we also want to establish a reputation for honesty and trustworthiness, our communications must also be consistently truthful and factual.
If the truth be told.