Since the corona crisis, I have become a big fan of Mark Rutte’s spin doctor. Whenever a press conference is scheduled, I eagerly sit on the couch to listen to the words of our prime minister. His rhetorics are amazing: calm, clear, accessible, serious and empathic. This, in part, is his own merit, but, I am becoming curious as to who writes his speeches.
This has everything to do with the ingenious game this spin doctor plays with the audience. In my bachelor of economics and governance, I was often faced with the importance of human behaviour. Economists are desperate to capture behaviour in generally accepted truths as if economics was natural science. Time and again, this leads to disappointment: humans cannot be predicted, no matter how much you want to.
In science, there are many theories to explain human behaviour. One such theory is the attitude-behaviour model, which states that your behaviour is, in large part, determined by your convictions. To establish a change in behaviour, you can choose to restrict it. But, with the attitude-behaviour model in mind, it is not a bad idea to fine-tune someone’s perception. This may lead to a broader and more profound change.
It has to do with the ingenious game this spin doctor plays with the audience
In the case of the corona directives, Rutte’s rhetoric reveals this is his preferred approach. Corona demands measures, but it is ultimately about altering the behaviour of individuals. You can sense that Rutte is loath to step up the measures because of the economic repercussions. Perhaps the restrictions he does put in place are even meant more as a signal, to convince the Dutch of the need for a change in behaviour.
There is no question that Rutte’s spin doctor is well aware of this psychology. Rutte’s words at the press conference have been carefully weighed to nudge our view of corona -and with it, our behaviour- in the desired direction. This requires a perfect antenna for the sentiment among the Dutch people so that you can capitalise on this sentiment. Pure class, if you ask me.