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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More articles on Project Management:
- The Weaver's Pathway
- When projects near completion, we sometimes have difficulty letting go. We want what we've made to be
perfect, sometimes beyond the real needs of customers. Comfort with imperfection can help us meet budget
and schedule targets.
- The Injured Teammate: II
- You're a team lead, and one of the team members is suddenly very ill or has been severely injured. How
do you handle it? Here are some suggestions for breaking the news to the team.
- Mitigating Risk Resistance Risk
- Project managers are responsible for managing risks, but they're often stymied by insufficient resources.
Here's a proposal for making risk management more effective at an organizational scale.
- Risk Creep: II
- When risk events occur, and they're of a kind we never considered before, it's possible that we've somehow
invited those risks without realizing we have. This is one way for risk to creep into our efforts. Here's
Part II of an exploration of risk creep.
- Some Risks of Short-Term Fixes
- When we encounter a problem at work, we must choose between short-term fixes (also known as workarounds)
and long-term solutions. Often we choose workarounds without appreciating the risks we're accepting
— until too late.
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