Can you handle the truth?

I try to be a life long learner and the lessons just keep coming every day.  Let me share one I learned this week so that you might benefit from what I consider to be an unfortunate circumstance.  When I think of the title I used for this post, it always takes me back to this video clip from a favorite movie, “A Few Good Men” with Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise.

I am in the middle of a project as a volunteer and one of my tasks has been to contact potential consultants for a project for a group I represent.  In order to keep things moving along, I sent a blanket message to the potential consultants recently and shortly after the message was sent, one of the consultants gave me a call.

The individual on the other end of the phone asked how I was and I replied that I was pretty busy.  What happened next caught me totally off guard.  The tone changed immediately and this person took my response in a manner that was not intended at all.  The person must have felt I was trying to brush them off, but as I mentioned in a later message after they hung up the phone, I am just a volunteer in this effort and I balance my volunteer work with the needs of my business that impacts several other lives including my own.  The response to the follow up message was even more direct and negative and as a result this individual/firm will probably choose to not get involved as a potential solution for the process I am leading as a volunteer.

Much of my reading this years has centered around Kahneman and Tversky and the finer points of decision psychology.  What I have learned from my reading, as it relates to this process has been the following:

  1. Recency” is a terminology that is often discussed by Kahneman in “Thinking Fast and Slow” as a way our minds use System 1 thinking to make decisions.  System 1 thinking is very intuitive and fast in reacting.  I think back to decisions I have made where recency came into play and experiences that have I have had close to the present have a profound impact on how I react when something similar comes up.  I suspect his colored the response of the person on the other end of the line with me.
  2. Often when others ask questions, they are looking for canned responses and not more direct, factual ones.  I once worked for a CEO who talked about the “Great Lie” that most people tell.  The great lie is what happens when we ask someone how they are and they say “fine”.  Many people say they are fine, but that is more of a cover up versus an actual account of how they feel.  When I responded that i was pretty busy, I was telling more truth than what this person might have expected.  Rather than taking the time to listen and process why I answered in this way, their reaction was hijacked by similar events and that took the conversation in a direction not intended.
  3. Kahneman talks about how our minds don’t typically like System 2 thinking because it involves problem solving or computation.  Think about the two problems below:
    1.   2×2
    2. 23×23

The first requires little computation, but the second will require a lot of processing by most of us.  As a                    result, many of us will shy away from System 2 thinking and fall back on the quickness and simplicity of                System 1 thinking.  I know I do and I have to sometimes guard against this happening.

Kahneman and Tversky are just a few who have done substantial work in the areas of decision psychology.  The lesson I keep learning, and one most of us can gain insight from, is that we need to listen closely and react more slowly to gain complete insight into what others say and why they say it.  Rather than jumping to conclusion, and intuitive habit of System 1 thinking, take the time to listen, pause and dig deeper into the responses that others give when we talk with them.