The New England Journal of Medicine supplies an excellent example of the recurring persuasion problem for health professionals. Douglas S. Diekema laments in his Perspective on vaccinations that not all parents get their children properly vaccinated despite the indisputable scientific evidence. He recounts their various objections and argues that it is up to every physician in America to do their bit in the ongoing fight against ignorance and disease. Diekema’s solutions?
First, socioeconomic barriers and disincentives to vaccination should be eliminated.
Second, school-entry requirements should be strengthened and enforced.
Although eliminating exemptions for religious and personal beliefs may seem logical, such efforts would encounter substantial resistance and probably increase antivaccinationist fervor.
Third, misinformation regarding vaccines must be addressed promptly and aggressively.
Fourth, clinicians, health care organizations, and public health departments must learn to use the tools of persuasion effectively. He cites Aristotle.
Finally, clinicians must set an example.
While the solutions are forthright, stern, and objective, they have no chance of success and simply because of the Second Rule of Persuasion.
It’s about the Other Guy, Stupid.
Diekema demonstrates that tone deaf persuasion skill so characteristic of most MDs I’ve worked with or known in my life. While these folks are bright, motivated, and well trained they are not bright, motivated, and well trained in persuasion, but biology, molecular genetics, advanced Medicare billing, and on and on with the curriculum and instruction of medicine that, oddly enough, thinks Aristotle is the word on persuasion. Ever heard of Sequential Message Requests? How about Dual Process Models of Persuasion? Any chance Dissonance matters? What about Affirmation? Maybe Implementation Intentions? But, I excess.
The persuasion problem with physicians is in the selection and training. Clearly, everyone is smart enough to understand Ding Dongs and For Me and the Two Step, but they are not trained in the literature to create a comprehensive understanding of persuasion nor are they trained in practical persuasion, the sheer planning, resourcing, practicing, and evaluating. In this instance, expertise, skill, and ability are barriers to persuasion success. Anyone smart enough to become an MD is smart enough to do persuasion. Then you read Perspectives on applied persuasion like Diekema (and others from the Persuasion Blog) and you realize it ain’t the SAT that makes the maven.
And, of course, this only applies to physicians. Other smart professionals who have no training in persuasion can easily master the skill. Look at all those Nudging economists, for example.
Mavens skin them all.