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
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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:
- Dismissive Gestures: I
- Humans are nothing if not inventive. In the modern organization, where verbal insults are deprecated,
we've developed hundreds of ways to insult each other silently (or nearly so). Here's part one of a
catalog of non-verbal insults.
- Stonewalling: I
- Stonewalling is a tactic of obstruction used by those who wish to stall the forward progress of some
effort. Whether the effort is a rival project, an investigation, or just the work of a colleague, the
stonewaller hopes to gain advantage. What can you do about stonewalling?
- Impasses in Group Decision-Making: II
- When groups can't reach agreement on all aspects of an issue, the tactics of some members can actually
exacerbate disagreement. Here's Part II of an exploration of impasses, emphasizing two of the more toxic
- Human Limitations and Meeting Agendas
- Recent research has discovered a class of human limitations that constrain our ability to exert self-control
and to make wise decisions. Accounting for these effects when we construct agendas can make meetings
more productive and save us from ourselves.
- Suspense Is Not Your Friend
- Most of us have to talk to other people at work. Whether to peers, subordinates, or superiors, sometimes
we must convey information that can be complicated when delivered in full detail. To convey complicated
ideas effectively, avoid suspense.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 20: Stone-Throwers at Meetings: I
- One class of disruptions in meetings includes the tactics of stone-throwers — people who exploit low-cost tactics to disrupt the meeting and distract all participants so as to obstruct progress. How do they do it, and what can the meeting chair do? Available here and by RSS on March 20.
- And on March 27: Stone-Throwers at Meetings: II
- A stone-thrower in a meeting is someone who is determined to halt forward progress. Motives vary, from embarrassing the Chair to holding the meeting hostage in exchange for advancing an agenda. What can Chairs do about stone-throwers? Available here and by RSS on March 27.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
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.