Reframing newsletter

Communication Tip #3: Do’s and Don’ts of Correcting Mistakes

June 24, 2016

In a recent newsletter, we identified communication tips from FrameWorks Institute that can help the human service sector make the most of the new narrative. This week we are taking a closer look at a communication device that might be undermining our efforts to change common misperceptions about the work we do and those we serve. Informally known as “myth vs. fact,” the device is essentially restating the misinformation the public might be harboring and then immediately following it with a correction.

The public comes to the table with a number of myths and misconceptions about human services. Communicators often try to address this challenge by first restating and then dispelling the mistake, but this has the surprising unintended consequence of reinforcing the mistake in the listener’s mind.

Existing beliefs are hard to dislodge. As we know from FrameWorks repeating the existing misperception may actually reinforce it.

In trainings, FrameWorks has indicated that in a study done by a well-known organization using the “myth vs. fact” sheet, the entity found that not only did people misremember the myths as facts, but they also attributed the source of the incorrect information to the original source.

Here’s an example of the myth mistake:

A common response to intergenerational poverty is to scale back forms of direct aid to families — welfare, food stamps, etc. — that are frequently labeled as creating dependency. This position flies in opposition to the facts. Research shows that giving aid to a family increases the chances that a child will not continue to live in poverty as an adult. If we want to end intergenerational poverty in America, we should be giving families more aid — not less.

Note that the first sentence is the “myth”: that aid causes dependency. But at this point, we have just repeated the incorrect information and inadvertently reinforced it. Instead try this:

Making sure a family has what they need to thrive, including access to healthy food and affordable health care, increases the chances that a child be able to reach his or her full potential.

Reporters often pose statements or questions in the myth/fact format. Those are good opportunities to be consistent with the new frame and avoid restating the myth at all costs.