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:
- Finger Puzzles and "Common Sense"
- Working on complex projects, we often face a choice between "just do it" and "wait, let's
think this through first." Choosing to just do it can seem to be the shortest path to the goal,
but it rarely is. It's an example of a Finger Puzzle.
- Status Risk and Risk Status
- One often-neglected project risk is the risk of inaccurately reported status. That shouldn't be surprising,
because we often fail to report the status of the project's risks, as well. What can we do to better
manage status risk and risk status?
- Symbolic 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.
- Avoid Having to Reframe Failure
- Yet again, we missed our goal — we were late, we were over budget, or we lost to the competition.
But how can we get something good out of it?
- Missing the Obvious: I
- At times, when the unexpected occurs, we recognize with hindsight that the unexpected could have been
expected. How do we miss the obvious? What's happening when we do?
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- When we're presented with an opportunity that seems too good to be true, as the saying goes, it probably is. Although it's easy to decline free vacations, declining career opportunities is another matter. Here's a look at indicators that a career opportunity might be a career trap. Available here and by RSS on April 3.
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