Don’t get me wrong, but you’re not always right
The author of The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, published an essay in 1936 in which he wrote:
The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.
Whether we’re talking about massive public protests, solutions for rush-hour traffic in your town, or the proposed reorganization of your team—you can look at most anything in lots of different ways. That can lead to heated discussions where people dig in, getting more entrenched in their own take on the matter at hand. If you find you never have to change your mind in such situations, then there’s a chance you’re brilliant and always right.
A more likely scenario? You’re not as open-minded as you think.
So it’s good to have tools on hand to help us out. Here are some ideas and questions that can help you park the emotions and reach better outcomes.
First: take the pressure off
Let’s say you notice yourself getting frustrated or upset during a meeting. You could try to create some breathing room like this: How about we move this decision to tomorrow? I want to truly consider it and at the moment I’m just feeling a lot of resistance to the idea. I need to give it some more thought. The extra time and space can de-escalate the situation and give you the room you need to explore your own position.
Recognize that you’re not seeing the whole picture
In many cases, you simply don’t have all the info, and you’ll need to actively go out and find it. Read source docs. Familiarize yourself with the larger context. Look into alternatives. Ask yourself what’s not being discussed. What’s missing? Who haven’t we heard from?
Nobody’s immune to confirmation bias
Understand that everyone—you and I included—tends to prefer proposals that dovetail with what we already think we know. This is confirmation bias. People who don’t like open office plans, for instance, will interpret any studies into focus and distractions in the workplace through that lens. Here’s my Big Cognitive Bias Checklist, with pitfalls you can learn to recognize.
Know that you might be wrong
You might be wrong. Happens to the best of us.
Newcomers in an organization may not understand the full context, and once you’ve worked somewhere for a while, there are other things you can miss. Add the fact that corrections in the media often don’t get the attention the original mistakes did. They’re not shared as readily. So you can easily be walking around with incorrect assumptions. We all are.
So while it’s enticing to follow your gut and obey your first impulse, there’s a wiser, if more difficult, path: Get better at weighing the options you see, while exploring new possibilities you may have to work to uncover.
Have a good week,
PS Want more on this topic? Check: Get used to the idea. You’re wrong more than you think