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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, July 09, 2017 1:00 am

Faulty assumptions often root of conflict

LISA GREEN | The Journal Gazette

It bears repeating: Don't be so quick to judge. Observe, yes. Judge? Go slow.

An email in late June from author Lisa McLeod provided another reminder about faulty assumptions, whether while interviewing a job candidate, observing those you work with or meeting prospective in-laws for the first time.

“We're always consciously and unconsciously observing and making assessments,” said McLeod, who is based in Greensboro, Georgia, and the best-selling author of books including “Leading With Noble Purpose.”

Hiring, salaries, promotions and assignments are among the decisions at stake, but the conclusions drawn from observations are often incorrect, McLeod's email said.

I've certainly been guilty of judging hastily, only to later realize my conclusions were flawed once other information came to light. I've also been on the opposite end. It's always even more challenging when people draw conclusions and share their so-called discoveries with others, who sometimes believe the report without any due diligence either. Sometimes all it takes to better understand a situation or individual are simple questions, such as “What's going on?” or “What are your thoughts?”

An email last week from VitalSmarts, a leadership training company in Utah, suggests that assumptions play a role in ongoing conflict.

“The heart of most conflict is not irreconcilable differences, but irreconcilable stories,” author Joseph Grenny, the co-founder of VitalSmarts, said in a newsletter Q&A.

McLeod's email, which a colleague forwarded to me, echoed some of the advice that leadership consultant Michelle Tillis Lederman shared last month in a podcast series. Once we have a perception about people, Lederman said, we look for evidence to support it.

McLeod provided three common problems with being quick to judge.

• Everything is a snapshot or single moment in time. “You didn't see the 24 hours leading up to your moment of observation. It may have been the worst 24 hours of their life, or the best. We can't be expected to dive into the nuances of everyone's back story,” she said. “What we can do is give people the benefit of the doubt. If in a single moment, if someone seems unfocused, frazzled, ill at ease, or some other less desirable trait, grant them the space to reset. Try not to overemphasize these single snapshots.”

• It's biased. Even the most well-intentioned people are biased. Sometimes it's related to race, gender, age or other similar factors. But there's another type of bias that can be even more insidious: self-affirmation bias. Imagine someone cuts you off in the cafeteria line; You assume they are rude, and so in future interaction with them, you subconsciously look for things that reaffirm that belief.

What's worse, McLeod said, is your brain takes it one step further. You'll tune out anything the individual does that suggests they aren't rude. The problem is that individual may not have even realized they cut you off that day in the cafeteria. “But now your brain is working overtime to prove itself right,” she said.

• It's about you, not them. Who do you think is a “good boss?” Why do you think that? Probably because they do things and say things you like while other bosses don't. The way we assess things is in reference to our own experience. If you had a boss that screamed at you everyday, that's your bar for a bad leader. If you had a boss that was nice but a little frazzled, that might be your bar for a bad leader.

Next time you're assessing someone anecdotally or formally, test your conclusions, McLeod said. And even when we sense shifts in people, I think it's important to do the due diligence; have the bold conversations to note not just the change but the why.

To share a thought, a favorite quote or other wisdom about leadership, email Lisa Green at lisagreen@jg.net. Lead On also appears online as a blog at www.journalgazette.net/blog/lead-on.