Unthinkable

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long

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Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.
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Unthinkable

imageAs we listen to the responses to the Australian Cricket team ball tampering affair we hear that most people think that the team was thinking rationally about cheating. Many attribute the work of conspiracy to the issue as if the senior players ‘planned’ rationally to cheat. Only a few understand the powerful influence of social psychology in shaping decisions (https://www.smh.com.au/sport/cricket/for-australian-cricket-arrogance-rewarded-just-led-to-more-arrogance-20180326-p4z6c5.html).

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Unfortunately in safety the paradigms of behaviourism, individualism and rationalism dominate the worldviews of many. We see this in the way safety people conduct incident investigations and in the curriculum of Work Health and Safety. The idea that humans are influenced by hundreds of social psychological factors that determine decisions based on context is simply foreign and not believed. The idea that people can behave under the influence of a collective unconscious is simply dismissed. Perhaps what is worse, using safety’s own paradigm, they don’t even want to know about it. Lets just keep to specialisations in objects, checklisting and regulation. Safety is simple: tell the rule, police the rule and punish non-compliance. How convenient and comfortable is the binary bubble of safety.

Of course in the real world of fallible humans safety simplicity doesn’t work, zero will never be achieved. Indeed, zero is part of the binary problem. The fact that the Global Congress on Safety endorses zero along with the SIA is testimony to the fact that Safety is trapped within its own small bubble and doesn’t know how to get out. Collective groupthink is cognitive dissonance on a grand scale (https://safetyrisk.net/how-groupthink-works/ ). Safety doesn’t want disruption, it just wants to talk about it. Safety doesn’t want anything differently, it just wants to talk about it. Safety doesn’t want safety 2, it just wants to talk about it. If there is to be any difference the behaviourist, individualist and rationalist ideologies that dominate safety would have to change. This is the vision for safety.

I’m sure when the Australian senior cricket players got together they weren’t ‘thinking’ of anything they were ‘unthinking’. (A read of Chris Paley ‘Unthink’ would be a good start). In a small group of people blinded by anger about sledging, victimization and nasty politics the reaction was about getting even, not rational thought. When someone gets caught in road rage they stop thinking, they get caught up in the social dynamics of the circumstance and do things they would not normally do (Read Caldini ‘Influence’ for a start).

Anger is a blinding influence that disposes of the need for rational thought. Anger is only one of hundreds of social influence dynamics that influence decision making. (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-03-24/south-africa-v-australia-david-warner-abused-by-spectator/9583014; http://www.news.com.au/sport/cricket/david-warner-responds-to-sledge-that-sparked-his-altercation-with-quinton-de-kock/news-story/214b3c22f02702723af1269d43c9db94; https://www.smh.com.au/sport/cricket/david-warner-at-heart-of-ball-tampering-scandal-20180326-p4z6d3.html)

Here is a list of the social psychology basics one would need to understand in order to grasp how social influence changes decision making and behaviour:

  1. Pitch, Frame, Prime, Mirror, Anchor – Reframing
  2. Valence Framing

  3. Language Selection

  4. Social Association

  5. Focus on Artefacts

  6. Setting Expectations and Agenda

  7. Understand Choice, Option and Reaction Formation

  8. Understand Homeostasis, By-Products, Trade-Offs, Spin-Offs

  9. Constraining Response Options

  10. Diversity in Decision Criteria

  11. Misdirection

  12. Phantom Alternatives

  13. Comparison Sets

  14. Understanding Flow

  15. Metaphor and Semiotics

  16. Narratives (setting Meaning and Purpose)

  17. Envisioning Vision

  18. Questioning Skills

  19. Innuendo

  20. Understanding Psychology of Goals

  21. Understanding Trajectory and Projection

  22. Understanding Debias Techniques

  23. Committee Works, Lobbying, Coalitions

  24. Jig-sawing

  25. Social Dilemmas

  26. Understanding Altercasts

  27. Space and Place, Physical Context

In addition to understanding these dynamics one would also need to understand the dozens of resistance dynamics that influence non-compliance. A read of Dolinski ‘Techniques of Social Influence, The Psychology of Gaining Compliance’ would be a start. However, I am sure that none of these texts either by Paley, Caldini or Dolinski would make the reading list of any WHS curriculum. It’s just easy to keep to the binary worldview that the senior players decided rationally to cheat and were stupid. After all, ‘safety is a choice you make’.

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