After running consultations with consumers and carers over the past few years, I have noticed a trend that needs to be taken into consideration when consulting with more disadvantaged groups. There could be a formal name for this already but for now let's call it Gratitude Bias.
The fact is that people who have been marginalised in life and who have struggled to access services in the past are often so very grateful for any assistance they receive that when asked to provide feedback about the services, they are reluctant to say how they really feel. From seniors accessing Home and Community Care services to people living on the streets accessing medical services, the response to questions about ‘how could the service be improved’ can often be met with a polite smile or a fleeting mention of some minor concern. While only having a minor concern is a valid response, at times I have wondered if there are issues that have not been given a voice. While there are other demographic and cultural factors to consider, the concept of Gratitude Bias appears to be one that cuts right across population groups. The key to working with Gratitude Bias is TIME. The more you sit with people, the deeper the rapport and the more people are willing to open up and share how they really feel. In a time-poor world and with email, SMS, tweets etc pinging in and out, it can be tricky to remember that the pace of some people's world might be different to ours. Sitting with a group of carers of people with a disability for that moment longer, being willing to linger on a topic without being intrusive, allowed people to bring to light and discuss some experiences of residential care that were powerful and concerning to say the least. Had I stayed focused on getting through the agenda, all these deep issues and concerns would have remained unspoken. People just needed time to share at a pace that they felt comfortable with. The issue of Gratitude Bias is particularly prevalent in elderly consumers and at times also carers, with a whole generational mindset that you get what you are given and that you should be ‘happy with your lot’. As someone with a busy consulting practice, taking that extra time delivered an unexpected gift in the reminder that, even though I took some extra time, it still all gets done and I walked away ‘meeting’ another person, rather than having a transaction. So the next time you sit with someone to hear his or her views, consider the time and space you allow for the deeper issues to emerge. Not only will it assist in avoiding Gratitude Bias but it will also remind you that the emails can wait, after all there is a person right in front of you.