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Credibility Trumps Reason: Why Improvement Fails to Spread

Posted by Mark Jaben

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May 19, 2016 1:44:08 PM


In one of my previous posts, we examined how essential all the brain functions are in reaching a decision. Although rational function is powerful, we have been misled by thousands of years of belief that the best decisions are made consciously, in the rational mind. The foundation for decision making actually occurs outside one’s awareness, in the Hidden Brain, where values, preferences and beliefs originate; we just don’t "know" about it. One’s rational functions are only called upon if the Hidden Brain cannot devise a satisfactory response. It is through the use of emotions, feelings, hunches and intuitions that a person becomes aware of Hidden Brain choices.


Improvement requires a person be open to alternative ways to get something done. They must 'decide' it is worthwhile enough to participate. The Berns study, referenced in an earlier post, demonstrated that a person with a fixed belief is processing in a different part of the brain than a person willing to entertain options. Once convinced of its correctness, the brain will defend that belief even in the face of conflicting information.

If a person is not in their challenging mode - willing to question beliefs and entertain options - no amount of data, facts, experience, or memory will sway their ‘choice.’ They are just not in a frame of mind to hear. If they have judged that your voice is not worth listening to, what you say is not even included in the ‘data set’ used to make those decisions and choices.

Don’t expect a person to articulate why they feel the way they do; it's happening in the Hidden Brain.


No matter what you believe, you do not determine how credible you are to others on a given issue. Your credibility is a matter of what the other person believes it to be. If they don’t find you credible, the message delivered to their awareness is to pay no attention to you. Their ‘rational’ functions are then called on to defend that belief.

So if you can’t get senior leader participation, staff ‘buy in,’ or traction for continuous improvement, and if your tactic is to get their ‘buy-in’ with data, facts, experience or memory, you are likely struggling because you're failing to address the root cause of the problem: your credibility.

No methodology can work unless people are willing to invest themselves and participate in finding options that work and are workable. And no one will participate with you if they do not see you as someone worth participating with. If they don’t judge you to be a credible partner and someone interested in their success and survival, their brain will choose to disregard data that is correct, methodologies that work, or problems that threaten the organization’s viability. You can make the best case possible, but it will have little effect.

Your lack of credibility makes it more likely a reasonable person does not consider what is reasonable. Credibility, indeed, trumps reason. That’s how the brain works.

What Can You Do About It?

When your efforts at improvement meet resistance, the first thing to do is take a hard look at how you are going about this. Recognize the critical importance that their view of your credibility plays in the success of any effort.

If your intention is to spread a culture of improvement, the real crux lies not in what you say, but in what you should be doing. And from the brain’s perspective, trying to get buy-in is not it.

Although your intention is to solve a problem, that goal should not really be your sole aim. In a future post, let’s discuss just what you should do to improve the likelihood that your credibility is not the stumbling block to improvement in your organization. Subscribe to the Kainexus blog to ensure you don’t miss this!

Learn more about the science of spreading improvement from this author in this webinar:


The Science Behind Resistance to Change:
What the Research Says & How it Can Help You


In this webinar, you will learn:

  • How people form opinions about the validity of continuous improvement
  • Then neuroscience behind why it's so hard to change minds
  • Why simply getting "buy-in" doesn't always work
  • What you need to do to sway opinions, increase engagement, and spread improvement


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