The Epic Battle Continues…will the myth or the fact win out?

October 25, 2012

It’s election season. And that means that candidates are hurling accusations against each other left and right. And the candidates on the receiving end are having to respond to false accusations with their version of the “truth.”

In the nonprofit world, we have the distinct pleasure of dealing with this “situation” year-round, not just during one season. We typically refer to it as debunking myths, or myth versus fact.

The effectiveness of our response to the myths that get in the way of our work, whether they are perpetrated by politicians, corporations or your neighbors, is completely dependent on the style of our response.

Did you know that you could be reinforcing a myth, making that bad idea even “stickier”, if you rebut it the wrong way? Horror of all horrors!

There is a great new best practices guide called the Debunking Handbook that has been making the rounds among the staff at Resource Media. If you remember only one thing from this handbook, let it be this:  Do not lead with the myth you are trying to correct!

This is a best worst practice, more formally known as the “familiarity backfire effect,” as it will help reinforce the myth you seek to displace with your facts.

Start your rebuttal with the facts you want to embed in people’s minds. First impressions, or your first fact, are important! Then, turn your warning lights on, “Alert, alert, I am about to tell you the falsehood I am currently debunking…” Briefly tell people the myth and move right back to close out with the alternative explanation you want people to accept.

It’s simple and elegant:  fact, fact, myth, your excellent alternative. And stop at that – less is more.