Gaining trust through listening
By Jenni Metcalfe
I remember the ‘Poowoomba’ debacle in 2006 where scientists prepared clear messages about the safety of recycled water, and conveyed these messages to a community who feared for the health of their families.
Activists were able to build on those fears and it was no surprise when, in a referendum, 62% of the people of Toowoomba voted against adding purified recycled water to their water supply—and this happened during one of the worst droughts ever to hit the region.
One of the big problems in trying to gain people’s trust in our science is that all too often we think the scientific evidence is enough.
We prepare glossy brochures with carefully crafted and tested messages, and expect people to accept the weight and credibility of that information.
But we ignore their perceptions, misperceptions, concerns and needs about the issue, particularly controversial issues that affect their health, lifestyle and environment.
The facts and the science are not enough.
We cannot expect people to listen to our science if we have not truly listened to them.
We need to find out about and recognise people’s values and beliefs in our communication. And we can only do that by actively listening (LACE):
Listen actively – ask questions.
Acknowledge what people say – summarise it for them.
Clarify – ask more questions to check you understand what they are saying.
Elicit more information – explore their answers in depth.