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:
- The High Cost of Low Trust: II
- Truly paying attention to Trust at work is rare, in part, because we don't fully appreciate what distrust
really costs. Here's Part II of a little catalog of how we cope with distrust, and how we pay for it.
- Nasty Questions: II
- In meetings, telemeetings, and email we sometimes ask questions that aren't intended to elicit information.
Rather, they're indirect attacks intended to advance the questioner's political agenda. Here's part
two of a catalog of some favorite tactics.
- About Workplace Hugs
- In the past twenty years in the United States, we've changed from a relatively hug-free workplace culture
to one that, in some quarters, seems to be experiencing a hugging tsunami. Knowing how to deal with
hugging is now a valuable skill.
- On Badly Written Email
- Even those who aren't great writers do occasionally write clearly, just by chance. But there are some
who consistently produce unintelligible email messages. Why does this happen?
- Implicit Interrogations
- Investigations at work can begin with implicit interrogations — implicit because they're unannounced
and unacknowledged. The goal is to determine what people did or knew without revealing that an investigation
is underway. When asked, those conducting these interrogations often deny they're doing it. What's the
nature of implicit interrogations?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 13: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: I
- To take the risks that learning and practicing new ways require, we all need a sense that trial-and-error approaches are safe. Organizations seeking to improve processes would do well to begin by assessing their level of psychological safety. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
- And on December 20: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: II
- When we begin using new tools or processes, we make mistakes. Practice is the cure, but practice can be scary if the grace period for early mistakes is too short. For teams adopting new methods, psychological safety is a fundamental component of success. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
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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.