Lose Your Illusion III*

Paul Hebert Current Affairs, Good HR, HR, Paul Hebert, Science, The FOT Soap Box

I spend an inordinate amount of time studying humans. My job is to help companies connect with them, engage them, provide reasons for them to change and adopt new behaviors. My passion is helping people get what they want. Those two things are pretty congruent and overlapping. When I do a great job, I also reinforce my passion. I’m lucky that way.

In my studies of how and why people behave, I run across a lot of different terms, theories, ideas, and principles. One principle, or more accurately—bias—that has been haunting me for about 3 months is something called “The Illusion of Truth Effect.”

The Illusion of Truth Effect is the tendency to believe information to be correct simply because we hear it multiple times. It is the psychological principle behind quotes like:

“When a myth is shared by large numbers of people, it becomes a reality.”


“There’s nothing so absurd that if you repeat it often enough, people will believe it.”


“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”


“Never eat anything bigger than your head.”


Just about every “old wives tale” ever told. See: wait an hour before swimming, chocolate causes acne, GMO food will hurt you (oh—I’ll hear about that fer sher!).

But the point being—the more we hear something, the more likely we are to believe it.

Hand in hand with the illusion of truth effect is the principle that what we hear most recently has more impact than something we heard a while ago. Combine repetition with recency and you have modern marketing and most blogging and twittering.

And in HR’s case it isn’t a good thing. Too many articles are focused on all that HR does wrong. Harvard Business Review’s recent issue was “It’s Time to Blow Up HR.” And it wasn’t too long ago Forbes wrote: “It’s Time For Companies to Fire Their Human Resources Department.”  Those are just the top of my google results. I’m sure you could point to at least 10 other blog posts in the last month that are less than flattering to HR. It’s trendy to pick on HR. It’s funny and in some cases—it is true.

But I think HR needs to own the conversation. I’m not in HR. I’m HR adjacent, so I hear the woes and stories. I hear the negatives, and in some cases, the positives. I’m working hard to not be another naysayer.

But negativity and snark sells. I get it. But just like getting a performance review based on your most recent activity and that one mistake you made six months ago that everyone is still talking about (yes—the illusion of truth and recency effect play large in the performance review process!) it isn’t fair and it isn’t right.

I mentioned that this has been festering for 3 months, ever since I wrote the post The Rules of HR Club here on FOT back in April. That post got some great traction and comments. People told me how much they appreciated the focus on the positive.

So I’m doubling down on being positive about HR.

First—I’m talking about it again here on FOT (hoping my editors don’t pull this post; if you’re not reading this then they pulled it… )

HRPositiveSmallAND I created a group on LinkedIn called HRPositive.

I’m hoping you join the group. I’m hoping you share positive posts, articles, updates, and stories about the HR space.

I think we need that for HR.

I’m going to end this post by stealing and paraphrasing a quote from one of our ignominious US Vice Presidents…

“In the bloggersphere today, we have more than our share of the nattering nabobs of negativism. They have formed their own 4-H Club—the ‘hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of HR.’”

I’d like to see HR take back the conversation.

Own the HR brand.

Maybe, just maybe the next time HBR decides to write an article about HR it will lead with something like: “HR—The One Bright Spot in Business Today.”

What a wonderful world that would be.

* Bonus question if you’ve read this far. What is the significance of the image at the top of this post related to the content and the headline. Trust me—there is a connection. Hint: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Use_Your_Illusion_II