Time to Change Lenses

It’s really difficult to comprehend the argument that there is no absolute ‘reality’ – that each of us interprets events through our own experiences and inherent biases. We contends that this is indeed the case – and that in our quest to understand the world through generalisations, we can sometimes make seriously flawed judgements…

Imagine this scenario –a man is driving his car and with no indication, a car enters the road in front of him forcing him to brake heavily. As the man fights to suppress his annoyance, and without being able to see the other driver, he says to Himself “how useless is this Driver – guaranteed it’s a guy”.

As the traffic clears, the aggrieved driver draws parallel with the offending driver, and he sees that the guilty party is a female.

The aggrieved driver says to himself, “Wow — that’s unusual, it’s a woman”.

The above scenario is a classic example of how our generalisations about human behaviour do two things:

  • They lead us to make conclusions about events that we experience.
  • They become self-fulfilling.

It is with regard to the latter point above that I would like to explore a little further. My point is that generalisations become self-fulfilling.

In the driver scenario above, the generalisation held by the aggrieved driver is that “male drivers are careless drivers”. When he experiences something that challenges this generalisation, his rationalisation process is “this is an unusual event”.

Thus, this man’s generalisation remains intact — because the event he has just experienced is simply an anomaly.

The process of self fulfilling generalisations also applies to UGRs (Unwritten Ground Rules). I’ve been in organisations where a UGR is “around here, the bosses couldn’t care less about what we think”.

So when a leader in this context genuinely asks for staff feedback, the response has been to rationalise this by thinking “this is a one-off anomaly — they are not really serious about this”.

I am not proposing here that all leaders are well intended in all circumstances. What I am saying however, is that often our unconscious UGRs cause us to have lenses through which we interpret events as they unfold.

So if our interpretation of events is often negative, perhaps — just perhaps, it might be worthwhile to consider removing the lenses and taking things on face value.

Let me close by sharing a sentence which, if you think about it, makes no sense. Hopefully, you will get its meaning.

All generalisations are wrong.