Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 15, Issue 46;   November 18, 2015: Wishful Interpretation: II

Wishful Interpretation: II

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

Wishful "thinking," as we call it, can arise in different ways. One source is the pattern of choices we make when we interpret what we see, what we hear, or any other information we receive. Here's Part II of an inventory of ways our preferences and wishes affect how we interpret the world.
Darrelle Revis, cornerback in the U.S. National Football League

Darrelle Revis, an American football cornerback who plays for the New York Jets in the National Football League (NFL). Cornerback is a defensive position responsible for covering receivers, to defend against pass offenses and to make tackles. Revis is considered by most to be one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. His spot on the field is nicknamed "Revis Island" for his ability to utterly prevent the opposing team's leading receivers from contributing to the offense. Revis' mastery of his position extends beyond speed, agility, and "football sense," to include a study of the psychology of the receivers he covers. He acknowledges that he uses their "tells" to guide his on-field decision-making. Photo by Jeff Kern, (CC) Generic 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

In the most recent part of our exploration of sources of wishful thinking, we examined how optimism bias and framing effects can affect how we interpret the data we receive. Here are three more possible sources of distorted interpretations.

Observer-expectancy effect
This phenomenon occurs (among other conditions) when message recipients unconsciously communicate their expectations to the message senders, resulting in senders altering their messages. For example, an executive might phrase a question to a subordinate in a way that inadvertently communicates a preferred response, which can cause the subordinate to slant the response accordingly.
It's almost certainly impossible to be continuously aware of how we might be communicating our own desires to people who are trying to impart information to us. If we want unvarnished truth, making clear to all how much we value unvarnished truth is perhaps the best we can do.
Cognitive ease
Cognitive ease is a measure of the effort required to maintain attention and process the data we receive. We experience cognitive ease as we process information when:
  • The information is familiar or related to something familiar
  • The information is clearly presented or presented in a familiar format
  • We're primed — already thinking along the same lines
  • We're feeling good
If we can easily find a meaning that fits the observation, then we're more likely to attribute that meaning to the observation. In other words, we have a tendency to see or hear what we like or want or are already thinking about.
It's sometimes It's sometimes important to find the
right meaning for an observation —
not just a meaning that fits
or a meaning we like
critical to find the right meaning for an observation — not just a meaning that fits or a meaning we like. In such circumstances, intentionally try to find subtle meanings you don't like. Subtle, unpleasant, or difficult-to-grasp meanings that can't be ruled out might be important and valid.
Misinterpreted tells
In the game of poker, a tell is a change in behavior or affect that some believe involuntarily reveals players' assessments of their hands [Brayton 2013]. In this way, behavioral observations can convey information about another person's inner state. The concept has been more broadly applied — albeit by different names — in acting, negotiation [Shore 2014], con games, sales, gridiron football [Keteyian 2015], and even psychotherapy [Psychologia.co 2013].
Tells are easily misinterpreted. Sweating can indicate nervousness — or excessive heat; touching one's own nose can indicate lying — or an itch. Even more insidiously, someone who believes you might be relying on tells can simulate a tell so as to deceive. Unless you're an expert, or trained by an expert, making meaning from physical behavior or affect is risky business.

We make meanings for our observations quickly, and most of the time, that's fine. When the circumstances call for care, though, and time permits, proceed slowly. Get a second opinion. And a third. And maybe another after that. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Suppressing Dissent: I  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre 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!

Footnotes

[Brayton 2013]
Ed Brayton, "Poker, Psychology and the Science of Tells," November 16, 2013, at patheos.com. Back
[Shore 2014]
Richard Shore, "Three Tricks That Make Negotiations Work," Forbes Leadership Forum, January 31, 2014. Back
[Keteyian 2015]
Armen Keteyian, "Revis Island," on the CBS news magazine program 60 Minutes, October 18, 2015. Back
[Psychologia.co 2013]
"Signs of Lying in Body Language," at Psychologia.co. Back

Your comments are welcome

Would 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.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

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.

Related articles

More articles on Project Management:

Example of an unsecured driver-side floor mat trapping the accelerator pedal in a 2007 Toyota Lexus ES350Risk Management Risk: I
Risk Management Risk is the risk that a particular risk management plan is deficient. It's often overlooked, and therefore often unmitigated. We can reduce this risk by applying some simple procedures.
A Kemp's Ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempi), ashore, probably to lay eggsSeven Ways to Get Nowhere
Ever have the feeling that you're getting nowhere? You have the sense of movement, but you're making no real progress towards the goal. How does this happen? What can you do about it?
Sherlock Holmes and Doctor WatsonHow to Make Good Guesses: Tactics
Making good guesses probably does take talent to be among the first rank of those who make guesses. But being in the second rank is pretty good, too, and we can learn how to do that. Here are some tactics for guessing.
Two F-22A raptors line up for refuelingSymbolic Self-Completion and Projects
The theory of symbolic self-completion holds that to define themselves, humans sometimes assert indicators of achievement that either they do not have, or that do not mean what they seem to mean. This behavior has consequences for managing project-oriented organizations.
British mathematician Christopher Zeeman in 2009Missing the Obvious: II
With hindsight, we sometimes recognize that we could have predicted the very thing that just now surprised us. Somehow, we missed the obvious. Why does this happen?

See also Project Management and Critical Thinking at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Unripe grapes that are probably sourComing August 19: Motivated Reasoning
When we prefer a certain outcome of a decision process, we risk falling into a pattern of motivated reasoning. That can cause us to gather data and construct arguments that lead to the outcome we prefer, often outside our awareness. And it can happen even when the outcome we prefer is known to threaten our safety and security. Available here and by RSS on August 19.
The battleship @Cite{USS Arizona, burning during the Japanese attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, December 7, 1941And on August 26: Motivated Reasoning and the Pseudocertainty Effect
When we have a preconceived notion of what conclusion a decision process should produce, we sometimes engage in "motivated reasoning" to ensure that we get the result we want. But when we do this in relation to a chain of decisions in the context of uncertainty, trouble looms. Available here and by RSS on August 26.

Coaching services

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:

Reprinting this article

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

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.