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Teaching Deductive Thinkers Is Elementary, My Dear HR Manager

April 23, 2007
Related Topics: Harassment, Basic Skills Training, Featured Article
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The human resource manager took the stand and swore to tell the truth.

    As I watched him explain to the jury the company’s sexual harassment policy and training, it struck me: There’s probably not a dime’s worth of difference between a lawyer instructing jurors on the elements of a harassment case and a human resource manager training employees on sexual harassment. Both struggle with how adults think and learn.

    Human thinking comes from one of two molds: "inductive" thinking or "deductive" thinking. Lawyers (and human resource professionals) are trained to be inductive thinkers. Law students are trained using the Socratic case method: Read three or four obscure court decisions about some farmer trespassing onto a neighbor’s property, review the court’s reasoning, and develop a rule of law. Human resource professionals use the same method: They accumulate data points, add up the data and come to a conclusion.

    But most folks are "deductive" thinkers. These people start off with a conclusion they believe in, and then sort out the evidence to support that conclusion. Here’s an example of the clash that often happens between inductive and deductive thinkers.

    A few years ago, I volunteered to clean out my son’s car when he came home from college on break. As I began cleaning the trunk and under the seats, I pulled out a bottle of beer he was too young to drink, a pack of something he was too young to smoke and several articles I didn’t want to know about. Adding it all up, I quickly came to the conclusion that my son was engaged in a lifestyle I did not like. And I immediately let him know my displeasure. In the midst of our discussion, his mother (a deductive thinker) came into the room to umpire the ruckus. As she listened to my explanation of what I had found in his car, she commented, "Chris, do not let your friends keep things in the trunk of your car." Most people think the way she does. Most people are deductive thinkers.

    Any lawyer familiar with the jury trial process will tell you that jurors think deductively. They make an instant decision on who they think should win, then sort out the testimony and evidence presented that supports the conclusion they want.

    In a recent trial involving manufacturers Amway and Procter & Gamble, the jury decided that Procter & Gamble was not able to show it lost any sales from the recurring rumor of devil-worshipping, but wanted to compensate P&G for "out-of-pocket" expenses. The jury counted the number of P&G attorneys in the courtroom, guessed the number of hours they had worked over the past 10 years, multiplied by what the jury guessed was an attorney’s typical hourly rate, and came up with the $19.25 million verdict for P&G. Deductive thinkers.

    Human resource professionals have similar experiences when training employees in the area of sexual harassment. These employees are generally oblivious to how a joke or "innocent comment" can cause the uproar it does. Like trying to educate teenagers on the hazards of smoking, the deductive-thinking employees start with the premise "It is no big deal," and justify their behavior to support that conclusion. The same is true with deductive thinkers in the sexual harassment context. In a recent court decision, the soccer coach for the University of North Carolina justified his sexual innuendo as "just joking."

    It can be tough to make the point to deductive thinkers. Thirty-two years of trial work and employee training leads to the following suggestions to reach deductive thinkers:

  1. Use self-interest—their self-interest. The creator of the frying egg/"your brain on drugs" advertisement knows this technique. We talk for hours about the corporate mission, company culture, corporate profitability and the necessity of a harassment-free workplace. Inductive thinkers get it; deductive thinkers won’t. The trainer must demonstrate how sexual harassment affects each person in the company.

  2. Fear is helpful. If a supervisor or a line worker knows he/she will be fired for sexual harassment, it will sink in. No one wants the humiliation of being fired and telling the family why.

  3. Repetition works. Advertisers know the principle of repetition sells: "The Energizer bunny keeps going ... and going ... and going." Enough said. We’ll remember.

  4. Make it real, make it visual. People are trained from babyhood to learn visually. Devices such as video clips and goofy props all work. At an employee training session, I walked to the front of the room with a baseball bat and a stuffed baby seal and explained that the seal was a sexual harasser and the baseball bat was the company’s sex harassment policy. The audience got the point.

  5. Keep the presentation interactive. Effective techniques include speaking from the floor rather than a stage; walking the room to have conversations with participants as questions arise; positive reinforcement when questions are asked; and the ability to change direction when required rather than slavishly following PowerPoint slides. Keep the information flowing, the thought processes working, the employees learning.

    Several years ago, I asked an employee in a deposition if he understood the sex harassment policy. The employee responded, "I read it, but I did not understand it." Whether you are a lawyer talking to a jury or a human resource trainer teaching anti-harassment policies, spending some time thinking about how deductive thinkers learn will ensure that the listeners actually learn.

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