In tense exchanges between rivals, anger sometimes comes from the belief that the other is lying. Accusations of lying then further inflame the exchange, and we're off to the races. This is a fascinating starting point for such flaming, because lying is an especially difficult behavior to detect. Proof of lying requires evidence about the state of knowledge and intentions of the supposed liar, which can be difficult to obtain.
Although some experts claim to be able to detect lies by observing involuntary expressions and gestures, most of those making everyday accusations of lying have no such expertise. Usually, they do have faith in their level of insight into the mind of the supposed liar, but faith is not evidence.
The pattern of questionable assessments like these is so widespread that researchers have given it a name: the asymmetric insight illusion. This illusion has two fundamental elements:
- We think we know others better than others know them
- We think we know ourselves better than others know themselves
Following from these two fundamental beliefs are two more:
- We think we know others better than others know us
- We think we know ourselves better than others know us
Since this set of beliefs is usually an illusion, we're usually unaware that we have insufficient data to justify them.
Based on this illusion, we sometimes believe that someone is lying even when we can't possibly know that for certain. Here are three other ways to get into trouble:
- Inflicting feedback
- Sometimes we experience urges to give unsolicited advice or feedback. We might even neglect to ask for permission to provide it. See "Feedback Fumbles," Point Lookout for April 2, 2003, for more.
- These urges can come, in part, from the illusion that we understand the other's experience, perceptions, and defects. Use the urge as a reminder to check for the illusion.
- Resisting feedback
- When people giveWe sometimes believe that
someone is lying even when
we can't possibly know
that for certain feedback or advice, requested or not, the asymmetric insight illusion can convince us that the givers can't possibly know what they're talking about.
- Unfortunately for recipients, sometimes the givers do know what they're talking about. The urge to dismiss feedback might rest on the illusion that you know yourself better than anyone else possibly could.
- Intergroup antagonism
- Intergroup antagonism can prevent members of the respective groups from working together. They can all believe that the other group's members are mean-spirited, malicious, or worse.
- In large groups, when most members don't know each other well, they can nevertheless be certain about the other group's shortcomings. Such stereotypes suggest the workings of the asymmetric insight illusion.
There's a trap here awaiting all of us. The very strong sense that someone is doing or saying something that's consistent with being misled by the asymmetric insight illusion, could itself be the result of the asymmetric insight illusion. Top Next Issue
Is every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info
For more about the asymmetric insight illusion, see: Emily Pronin, Justin Kruger, Kenneth Savitsky and Lee Ross: "You Don't Know Me, But I Know You: The Illusion of Asymmetric Insight." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2001, Vol. 81, No. 4, 639-656.
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- You Can't Control What Other People Think
- Ever think that the world would be a much better place if you could control what other people think?
Maybe it would be. And maybe not...
- Grace Under Fire: II
- When we debate at work, things sometimes turn unpleasant. Out of control, one party might maneuver the
other into losing control. If we have better tools for recognizing these tactics, we're better able
to maintain self-control. Here's Part II of such a toolkit.
- Narcissistic Behavior at Work: I
- Briefly, when people exhibit narcissistic behavior they're engaging in activity that systematically
places their own interests and welfare ahead of the interests and welfare of anyone or anything else.
It's behavior that threatens the welfare of the organization and everyone employed there.
- Surviving Incompetence: I
- When your organization decides to undertake an effort that will certainly fail, you have options. Continuing
to oppose the decision probably isn't one of them. How can you respond to this incompetence and emerge
with your career intact?
- Do My Job
- A popular guideline in modern workplaces is "do your job." The idea is that if we all do our
jobs, success is most likely. But some supervisors demand that subordinates do their own jobs, plus
the jobs of their supervisors. It rarely works out well.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 5: Downscoping Under Pressure: I
- When projects overrun their budgets and/or schedules, we sometimes "downscope" to save time and money. The tactic can succeed — and fail. Three common anti-patterns involve politics, the sunk cost effect, and cognitive biases that distort estimates. Available here and by RSS on October 5.
- And on October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
- We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
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Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.