Put your feet on their pedals

25 January 2018 | 1:00 min read

Recently I ditched the bus, bought a bike, and became another annoying cyclist.  

My journey to work now involves cutting corners, jumping curbs, and slowing motorists down. I swerve into the middle of the lane when I hit the straights. I wear curious tights, I hover at lights and I appear suddenly. Out of nowhere. Like a rat on a kitchen floor.

But while I may look like I’m flaunting rules and sticking it to people in cars as I glide down Wellington’s hills, I’m not. I’m petrified.

I had no idea of this before I took to two wheels. I thought the grin on cyclists’ faces was one of joy. Turns out it’s terror. This game is not about fun, it’s about survival.

And it has struck me as I struggle back home that there is a lesson here. This is a real-life example of something communicators sometimes do in the rush to get a piece of work over the line: they make assumptions. Using a little knowledge or their own experience, they decide what their audience thinks, what their motives are, or how they will react to something. They don’t question and far too frequently they are wrong.

Much of our job is to facilitate conversations between groups to help one or other understand another perspective. If we rely on assumption, or our own limited experience, we can’t do this properly.

If it’s behaviour change we’re trying to achieve, deep understanding of our audience is crucial. If I think a cyclist is cutting corners because it’s fun, my strategy will be completely different to if I’d done a little research and found they’re doing it because they’re scared of being mowed down by impatient vehicles.

We need empathy, we need to question and examine our own assumptions, and most importantly, we need to put our feet on each other’s pedals (literally, where possible). 

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