A fairly common pattern found in decisions that have led to major disasters is the rejection of expert opinion, which almost certainly degrades decision quality. Although this rejecting can be a mechanism that supports confirmation bias, it need not be — the rejecting can arise from many sources.
Knowing the tactics of rejection will help you detect and prevent inappropriate rejection of expert opinion, either by individual rejectors or by the group as a whole. Here's Part I of a collection of tactics groups use to reject expert opinion, emphasizing prevention of consultation.
- Reject the idea of consultation
- Because there's no need to reject an expert's opinion if the opinion can be avoided altogether, rejectors might actively suppress all attempts to consult domain experts. Motivations for suppressing consultation include concerns that the decision might go counter to the rejectors' own preferences, fears that their own status and expertise might be threatened, worries that malfeasance might become evident, and many more.
- Arguments against consultation with experts can include concerns about delay, cost, confidentiality, or difficulty in vetting experts. As evidence that consultation is unnecessary, or of limited value, some will point to successful analogous decisions at previous times, or by other organizations.
- Reject the foundations of the expert's the field of knowledge
- This argument is also high leverage, because it has the virtue that if it works, it applies to all experts in the given field of knowledge. The tactic entails sowing doubts about the state of the field of knowledge that is the basis of the experts' expertise. Even if this tactic fails to prevent the consultation, those doubts can be useful later, as the rejectors try to limit the impact of the experts' recommendations.
- Doubts about the state of the field of knowledge might be based, for example, on differences of opinions among experts; recent advances that demonstrate supposed chaos or uncertainty in the field as it was before recent advances; claims of inapplicability to the problem at hand; or even a knowledge-based "smear" campaign based on evident chaos or disorder in distantly related fields of knowledge.
- Denigrate experts in general
- Denigrating Arguments against consultation with
experts can include concerns about
delay, cost, confidentiality, or
difficulty in vetting expertsexperts generally can serve two purposes. It can perhaps suppress consultation altogether, but if that fails, it can provide I-told-you-so ammunition for later rejection of the expert's opinion, if that becomes necessary.
- Techniques usually entail raising existential questions about experts in the domain at issue. The goal is to show that "no so-called expert" can possibly help us because — for example — we are the experts because we're way ahead of everyone in the field; experts have an inherent conflict of interest and can't be trusted; or we can't reveal our true situation to anyone without putting our organization at risk.
Are your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Double Your Downsizing Damage
- Some people believe that senior management is actually trying to hurt their company by downsizing.
If they are they're doing a pretty bad job of it. Here's a handy checklist for evaluating the performance
of your company's downsizers.
- Should I Keep Bailing or Start Plugging the Leaks?
- When we're flooded with problems, and the rowboat is taking on water, we tend to bail with buckets,
rather than take time out to plug the leaks. Here are some tips for dealing with floods of problems.
- Figuring Out What to Do First
- Whether we belong to a small project team or to an executive team, we have limited resources and seemingly
unlimited problems to deal with. How do we decide which problems are important? How do we decide where
to focus our attention first?
- Films Not About Project Teams: II
- Here's Part II of a list of films and videos about project teams that weren't necessarily meant to be
about project teams. Most are available to borrow from the public library, and all are great fun.
- Let's Revise Our Rituals
- Throughout the workday, we interact with each other on many levels. Some exchanges are so common and
ritualized that we're no longer aware of them. If we revise these rituals slightly, we can add some
zing to our lives.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 3: Appearance Antipatterns: II
- When we make decisions based on appearance we risk making errors. We create hostile work environments, disappoint our customers, and create inefficient processes. Maintaining congruence between the appearance and the substance of things can help. Available here and by RSS on July 3.
- And on July 10: Barriers to Accepting Truth: I
- In workplace debates, a widely used strategy involves informing the group of facts or truths of which some participants seem to be unaware. Often, this strategy is ineffective for reasons unrelated to the credibility of the person offering the information. Why does this happen? Available here and by RSS on July 10.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, USD 28.99)
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- 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.