Culture3 min read

This Got Us Thinking: should you give up on winning hearts and minds?

In matters of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), we’re often told we need to win hearts and minds. The message is that if you make emotional and intellectual appeals that land just right, you can get everyone on board with your plans for a better future and a vision for a more equitable world.

But in recent months, there have been a lot of questions raised about whether winning hearts and minds is really enough to break down systemic barriers.

This got us thinking.

In the wake of this year’s surge in the Black Lives Matter movement, we saw empathy clumsily dished out – in some cases, like it was enough to make up for centuries of racism. But while some people have been paralyzed by guilt and emotion, others have rejected — or innocently forgotten — the discomfort quickly delivered and fast forgotten overzealous empathy can create.

The question has also been raised about whether we can really win over minds. People have found themselves asking whether rationality still as the same power it used to? In our “post truth” era, evidence has shown that objective facts often aren’t enough to win people over.

So if hearts are overworked to no clear end and if heads seem to be operating in whole new ways, we started to ponder two questions – are the days of winning hearts and minds over? And if they are, what do we do next?

Here are a few nuggets that got us thinking this week.

🎧  Podcast excerpt: why individual motivation can be irrelevant

Last month on the Adam Buxton podcast, author Zadie Smith broke down why we need to go beyond just ‘winning hearts and minds’ and actually break down the biases that sit at the heart of our systems. Talking about the 2008 financial crisis, she shared….

We can talk about the personal morality of the young men mostly who were our generation who went into the banks and performed daylight robbery basically and crashed the world economy. And certainly, they were dicks. But the fact that they were dicks is not really relevant. Regulation is what stops people from behaving that way. People are greedy and people are often venal and people are prejudiced and people are selfish and if you obsess about ‘changing hearts and minds’ I guess is the American idea, one blacked out instagram post at a time, for me it’s all smoke and mirrors. The only thing that makes a difference to people’s practical lives are equitable structures.

Zadie’s point sparked our thinking. Just this week in a panel we hosted on race, diversity, and progress, Nichelle Grant – Head of DEI at Siemens – shared that often we focus too much on the awareness piece of the equity puzzle; we rely on too heavily on unconscious bias training, leading people to believe that if they’re more aware of their biases, then that’s the job done. Surely we’ll be able to overcome them? When it comes to work, we know that it’s changing our systems and processes that dismantles systemic biases. So Zadie’s question got us thinking. How do we do that through our public offices and systems too?

GIF by @clorophillaclorophillas.

💌  Empathy’s design failings

We can overly obsess over winning hearts (and having our hearts won). But when we depend on empathy to help us make the right decisions, we make ourselves short-sighted. We get too focused on what’s here and now and whose plight moves us the most.

Yale psychologist, Paul Bloom is firmly against empathy. Really. He even wrote a book about it. We loved Bloom’s 2019 interview with Vox (much faster than reading the book, no?) in which he said:

My beef is with empathy in particular, with its role in decision making… Empathy’s design failings have to do with the fact that it acts like a spotlight. It zooms you in. But spotlights only illuminate where you point them at, and for that reason empathy is biased.

Empathy is still a vital skill. But can we consistently hold empathy for everyone the way some inclusion conversations suggest? Will it guide us to make good decisions that are equitable for everyone? Check out Bloom’s interview for more food for thought.

Winner Champion GIF by @sadrie.

🤖  Modern methods for modern hearts and minds

McKinsey, however, say that winning hearts and minds is still an imperative. But in the modern context, the rules of engagement have evolved beyond, “give me the facts and speak to my values”. Instead, influencing others in your organization and getting them on board means more than delivering a great pitch or stoking empathy.

From Winning hearts and minds in the 21st century, McKinsey 2020.

Think about it. In the last few months, how has your company won you over – heart, mind or otherwise? Did you do something differently because of their influence?

✅  A challenge for your week ahead

Have a think about people and organizations who have won people over. Did they appeal to emotion? Or did they use rational arguments? Were they empathic? Did they actively show new behaviors? Maybe it was a mixture of all those things. What was the key to their success? How can you mirror what they did in your own actions? And what role can you play in breaking down societal and systemic inequalities?

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