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? rbrenrDUDwWaUxOAJtKFRner@ChaclWPJpPZohNvtYLEJoCanyon.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:
- Time Management in a Hurry
- Many of us own books on time management. Here are five tips on time management for those of us who don't
have time to read the time management books we've already bought.
- Team-Building Travails
- Team-building is one of the most common forms of team "training." If only it were the most
effective, we'd be in a lot better shape than we are. How can we get more out of the effort we spend
- Have a Program, Not Just an Agenda
- In the modern organization, it's common to have meetings in which some people have never met —
and some never will. For these meetings, which are often telemeetings, an agenda isn't enough. You need
- Intentionally Unintentional Learning
- Intentional learning is learning we undertake by choice, usually with specific goals. When we're open
to learning not only from those goals, but also from whatever we happen upon, what we learn can have
far greater impact.
- Meeting Troubles: Collaboration
- In some meetings, we collaborate not in reaching objectives, but in preventing our doing so. Here are
three examples of this pattern.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 11: The Rhyme-as-Reason Effect
- When we speak or write, the phrases we use have both form and meaning. Although we usually think of form and meaning as distinct, we tend to assess as more meaningful and valid those phrases that are more beautifully formed. The rhyme-as-reason effect causes us to confuse the validity of a phrase with its aesthetics. Available here and by RSS on December 11.
- And on December 18: The Trap of Beautiful Language
- As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenrDUDwWaUxOAJtKFRner@ChaclWPJpPZohNvtYLEJoCanyon.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, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
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.