Humans are hypocrites – use this knowledge

In a recent interview with business philosopher and author Paul Hawken in BOSS magazine, there’s a “phrase bite” I loved about greenwash – “Hypocrisy is one place to start… It’s human nature to start with little white lies [about your intentions] before you actually change what you really do. So business is telling lots of white lies, and not so white ones. But pretty soon people ask them questions and one thing leads to another.”

I presume he’s talking about the power of our need to appear consistent and how we can use that need.  Let’s look at two ways we can work with ourselves and others and deal with hypocrisy.

Firstly, the traditional way, is to point out the gaps between our rhetoric and our [lack of] actions and trust that embarrassment will generate some change. I used to do this all the time (even to myself) and now I’m not so sure it works. It raises our defenses and the temptation for senior people is to use the power of their position to shut the questioning down. It takes a big person to respond well to this sort of questioning and most of us are normal after all.

The second way is to point out the inconsistencies in a way that keeps reminding the person how great it is that they want to change. If we allow everyone the benefit of the doubt and assume a gap between belief and action, rather than a lack of belief, we support people to take actions to regain consistency.

So let’s all keep reminding ourselves and our leaders how great it is that we’ve said we intend to improve the workplace and environment and contribute to social justice, and support us all to really walk our talk.  Which reminds me I said I’d donate to …… time to take some action.

Read the full transcript of the BOSS interview with Paul Hawken at

Google Robert Cialdini for more information on consistency as a tool of influence.

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Matt Moore

    Sharon – I agree with you that hypocrisy is a natural human behaviour that we do well to accept and manage rather than deny. I get laughs in presentations when I say that I am a fan of “hypocrisy” – because I don’t believe we can be completely honest with each other (or ourselves for that matter). I think encouragement rather than shame can be more powerful for motivating individual change – but sometimes shaming is appropriate. Matt

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