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 likecritical 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 Top Next Issue
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See also Project Management and Critical Thinking at Work for more related articles.
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