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No. 39 – Choosing A Social System

August 31, 2011

Last post we saw that when you attempt to talk about radiation risks, you may be automatically relegated to a perceived social role by default. Namely, you may be seen in the social role of “protecting your job” as a health physicist, or “protecting the company” as a corporate representative, or “defending technology” as a technical professional, or an “intimidating expert” as a professor or Ph.D. Any of these perceived social roles can be attributed to you by default. If you do not do anything to establish your desired social role, you then empower the audience to decide on your social role according to their expectations or perceptions. By default you then play to the strongest bias of the audience, and therefore, will usually reinforce perceptions of your motivations and communication goals.

How Do you Choose a Social Role?

Your choice of social system and level of representation is a function of how you would like to be seen and how your audience will likely see you. For example, you may want to be seen as a professional representing the HPS, and the audience may see you as defending nuclear technology. Effective communication is not likely when you and the audience are operating from different perceived social roles. Several questions should be considered in choosing a social role. For example, what social role will best enhance your credibility? Which social role will the audience likely identify with?

The Family Social System

This is a good first choice. You are a human being experiencing the same feelings and living in the same world as everyone else. In the family social system you can share your concerns for radiation safety at the level of self, family, community, state, nation, or world. This can get emotional, but this is the system which you share in common with any audience. There is a great credibility advantage in this system, because you can show that you care. You can identify with concerns at the self level and deal with technology at a higher social level.

Generally, feelings will dominate either at the self level or at the highest social level. For example, “you do not care about my family” or “you will destroy all human life.” Analytical thinking occurs more in the middle social levels. Recognizing this, you can position yourself first as a caring person, concerned with protecting the world, and then making decisions to get the job done at the community, state, or even national level.

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