How to Stop Repelling Those Who Think Differently
During my podcast interview with Angie McArthur (eposide 17 at http://scienceofsuccess.libsyn.com/podcast), we got into a discussion about the natural tendency to repel those who think differently than us so I wondered about how to stop repelling those who think differently. This blog post identifies what I am calling the three E’s of why we repel those who think differently: efficiency, ego, and error. Based on these 3 E’s of why we repel those who think differently, I conclude with how to stop repelling those who think differently.
In the podcast interview, Angie McArthur brought up the first E of why we repel those who think differently: efficiency. Angie discussed efficiency as a reason for our tendency to repel those who think differently than us. For example, when one person in a group comes at a group task from a completely different angle, everyone in the room is thinking this is going to take forever to resolve so the efficiency of the group goes down. We tend to feel that people who don’t follow the group are trouble makers who want to waste everyone’s time. In fact, science shows that when someone else sees the same situation differently from the way we do that this creates a feeling of discomfort for us. One of the easiest ways to alleviate this discomfort is to dismiss the way the other person sees the situation or, in other words, repel their point of view. Psychologists call this feeling of discomfort when our minds are confronted with conflicting points of view, at the same time, cognitive dissonance.
Psychologists call this feeling of discomfort when our minds are confronted with conflicting points of view, at the same time, cognitive dissonance.
Psychologists have proven that when we are in a state of cognitive dissonance, we will find a way to dissipate the dissonance (http://www.simplypsychology.org/cognitive-dissonance.html). Psychologists have also found three ways we dissipate cognitive dissonance based on experimentation. The first way we dissipate cognitive dissonance is to change one or more of our attitudes, behaviors, beliefs, values, and so on to make the relationship between the two elements more harmonious. The second way we dissipate cognitive dissonance is to acquire new information that outweighs the dissonance. The third way we dissipate cognitive dissonance is to reduce the importance of our perspective. These three ways to reduce cognitive dissonance work most effectively when the principles of collaboration are put into place. For example, the first way to dissipate cognitive dissonance will work best if both people involved take steps to change their perspective until the relationship between the perspectives is clarified which is a collaboration strategy. In addition, the second way to dissipate cognitive dissonance is a great collaboration strategy as long as there is respect between the two people involved. Finally, the third way to dissipate cognitive dissonance is most effective when there is common ground established about the meeting which is an element of collaboration.
The three ways to reduce cognitive dissonance work most effectively when the principles of collaboration are put into place.
Also in the podcast interview with Angie McArthur, I brought up the second E of why we repel those who think differently: ego. The idea here is that when someone brings up a different point of view, it is a threat to whether or not your point of view is correct or not. If we are wrong, then we look bad to others and our ego is damaged. We repel the other point of view to protect our ego or other’s perceptions of us.
Interestingly, self-esteem has been found to be a mediator to cognitive dissonance (Humaid, A.M.; “Cognitive Dissonance and its Relationship to Self-Esteem in Male and Female Students of Umm AlQura University;” Journal of the Social Sciences; 2015; 43(3), p. 49-96.). This is interesting because many definitions of ego include self-esteem. In fact, self-esteem can be an ego trap if your self esteem is based on the perception of others (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article). Here, self-esteem is your assessment of your value to both yourself and to others (http://www.samuelthomasdavies.com/) while ego is concern with looking good to others. The aforementioned research shows that you can build up resilience against cognitive dissonance by having a high self-esteem that is based on your assessment of your value rather than what others think of you.When you are concerned with what others think if you, your ego, then you are less resilient to cognitive dissonance and more likely to go on the defensive when someone else’s point of view disagrees with your point of view.
The third E of why we repel those who think differently, error, came out of my research on this topic. The third E is about the error that is inherent in how our brains function. In my research, I came across a TED talk by Ash Danielson in which he describes a state of cognitive dissonance that he experienced as a pilot in training (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NqONzcNbzh8). In this case, the cognitive dissonance was the direct result of the shortcomings of our visual perception system. Specifically, the shortcomings in his peripheral vision, which he chose to believe over the airplane’s instruments, caused him to initiate a “dead man’s spiral.” Fortunately the teacher aboard was able to take over and correct the mistake. Ash discovered that our perceptual system is subject to mistakes because it only takes in bits and pieces of our external environment and then fills in the gaps with what is expected based on previous experiences. Ash explains that we think in the same way: we pull in bits and pieces of information and then fill in the gaps with what we expect. As a result of how our brains think, psychologists have discovered over 50 cognitive biases which are faults in our thinking.
There are several cognitive biases at work feeding our natural tendency to repel people who think differently than us (http://people.clarkson.edu/). For example, confirmation bias is the tendency to selectively search for or interpret information in a way that confirms our preconceptions or hypotheses. Confirmation bias leads to cognitive dissonance when we encounter someone who has a different point of view of hypothesis. In addition, in-group bias is our natural tendency to be suspicious, fearful, and even disdainful of people who we don’t know very well. Thus, if the person with the different viewpoint is also someone we don’t know very well then the cognitive dissonance effect will be pronounced and we are even more likely to repel their point of view. There is also the status quo bias which is our natural apprehensiveness to change. When we encounter a different perspective, it is much easier to reject or repel the perspective then to change our view to accommodate or learn from the new perspective because of the status quo bias. Finally, the bandwagon effect, the desire to want to fit in with “your group,” may hold people back from offering alternative perspectives and help justify those who reject alternative perspectives.
Given the three E’s of why we repel those who think differently, how can we stop repelling those who think differently? First, we need to value effectiveness over efficiency. This necessitates adopting a long-term point of view because effectiveness saves time in the long run while efficiency is focused on saving time in the short term. Effectiveness is about looking for the best way from as many points of view as possible. Second, we need to accept the foolhardiness of ego in terms of defending our point of view at all cost given our perceptual and cognitive flaws. Instead, embrace the engagement of others to help each other overcome our perceptual and cognitive flaws. Third, embrace the scientific method as a process to overcome our biases and the errors in our thinking and seek knowledge that improves quality of life. Ash Danielson was the one to point out that science is a process that has been designed to overcome our biases, especially the publications piece which provides transparency that enables others to check that reasoning is sound (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NqONzcNbzh8). As it turns out, the most brilliant scientists I have met have the patience and humility it takes to collaborate with others that think differently then they do.
Accept the foolhardiness of ego in terms of defending our point of view at all cost given our perceptual and cognitive flaws
Embrace the scientific method as a process to overcome our biases and the errors in our thinking and seek knowledge that improves quality of life.
As it turns out, the most brilliant scientists I have met have the patience and humility it takes to collaborate with others that think differently then they do.
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Science of Success for Women Workshop July 9th, 2016 (1:00 – 4:30 pm, Carnegie Library Allegheny Branch): register here: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/science-of-success-for-women-workshop-tickets-25351990486
The gender leadership gap is represented by the pyramid reported by Catalyst for S&P 500 companies on February 3rd, 2016: the percentage of women decreases as you move up the leadership hierarchy in these organizations. Current diversity efforts at many companies are focused on addressing the factors limiting inclusion such as culture, unconscious bias, and discrimination. These are important efforts for the long term, however, these factors are not only difficult to change but take considerable time and effort to change. Recent neuroscience and behavioral science findings point to a new way to close the gender leadership gap.
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