12 Angry Men and 5 lessons in behaviour change
After re-watching 12 Angry Men yesterday (great movie), I started thinking how inspiring this movie might be for anyone working with communities and organizations to change behaviour for the better. Compressed into an intense and claustrophobic 96 minutes, the script and performances do a wonderful job of highlighting and exaggerating some big points when it comes to behaviour change. It’s kind of like a mini test-lab of social norms, nudging and the power of emotion all mixed up and working together.
I’ve put together a little summary of the five observations that stood out for me. It’s by no means exhaustive, but captures a few ideas that ...view middle of the document...
Juror #8 knows that the he cannot force his opinion on the other jurors. They need to be nudged along, so that the choice to vote “not guilty” seems the more attractive one. Emotions are high in the room, and people are resistant to change. If there’s any doubt, he’s reminded of this early on in the movie when he stands alone against the 11 in voting not-guilty, and another juror barks – “You’re not gonna change anyone’s mind”.
So Juror #8 is cautious from the get-go. Whenever he’s asked if he thinks the kid is guilty, he constantly answers “I don’t know. It’s possible”. This may actually be what he’s thinking at the time, but it’s more likely he knows that he can’t box people into a corner by telling them what to do. He needs to continue to nudge them, giving them information that gradually weakens their arguments, many of which aren’t based on rational reasons as expected, but a variety of emotional influences (including their own prejudices).
Whenever we’re trying to change people’s habits, we know we’re dealing with complex forces and emotions. So finding a way to nudge rather than push is always going to be more effective in the long-term. In working on a Breastfeeding initiative a few years back, it was clear how emotionally charged the issue was. Our focus then was to ensure we didn’t add to the pressure, so we focused on delivering an empathetic message that would nudge, not push.
#3 – Empathy provides context
From the outset, Fonda’s character attempts to understand and “walk in the shoes” of the kid accused of murdering his father. He talks about what it must have been like for the teenager, constantly pushed around by his father, and living in rough and slum-like conditions. He wasn’t using these as excuses, but rather because it provided context for much of the evidence that was being used against the accused. Often this was effective at re-framing the issue, helping others to see things from a different point of view. For example, simply knowing that the boy lived in a violent family environment started to change how the jurors perceived much of the evidence. So rather than simply running from the scene of the crime, he may have been running away from another beating.
The same goes for behaviour change. Effective research, observation and collaboration can help us better understand the daily reality of the people we are talking to. So how might this affect our approach to an issue like healthy eating. While communicating the importance of eating 5 fruits and vegetables a day might seem reasonable, to a single-parent family without a car, shopping and cooking takes on an entirely new set of challenges. And if, as is likely, they already know they should be eating better, than its clear there are bigger issues at play, including their surrounding environment. Truly seeing things from their point of view is an obvious first step, but often one that is glossed over. It may tell us that people’s limited access to fruit and...