See No Evil

The next time you’re at a football game where the home and away spectators sit in separate bleachers, take a few moments to watch the crowds, not the the game. When the ref makes a penalty call – especially a close one – watch the crowds. Here’s what you will find: If the ref makes the call for your side, everyone will shout for joy. “Good call, ref!” You’ve heard it a thousand times.

But watch the crowd on the opposing team. “The ref is blind!” “Why don’t you watch the game with the rest of us!”and so forth.

What’s the difference? Did half of the spectators see a different play? Was there a mass hypnosis…or worse, a great momentary surge of a unidimensional ocular cosmism? No. The difference was the result of our choice to support a particular team.

How sad. And all this time I thought the street brawls and fist-fights after high school games were over what really happened on the field. Guess not; they were all about which team we supported.

I am witness to a very interesting conversation that’s going in a LinkedIn group as I write this. Two sides. Opposing perspectives. Anger, anecdotes and attitude. Facts are either routinely ignored by the opposition, or dismissed as a “biased source.”

As an experiment, I posted no opinion, but showed charts and facts instead from only the most credible sources. Guess what? I was almost completely ignored. Both sides were so wrapped up in being right, that the discussion did nothing but escalate.

Here’s what’s going on.

“Perception bias” is one of the great enemies of progress. My favorite definition of it is, “I hear what I want to hear; see what I want to see.” Studies surprisingly show that the more facts that are presented, the more intractable the opponents become. And this split is more than ideological; its roots are in how we have seen the world, and how we choose to see it. You do it. I do it. Through our own lens of bias we see what we like, ignoring that which we determine is wrong. We choose to see no evil.

Biases are good because they help us to make decisions when we are bombarded daily with a cloud of data. Biases are bad when they cloud the data themselves.

Here’s how to address these types of dissension in your office:

  1. Shine light on the topic of biases. Bring your challenger in to agree that we all have our own biases.
  2. Highlight the propensity for these types of discussions to become more irrational than rational.
  3. Eschew anecdotal evidence and stories.
  4. Agree that both parties will fully consider and address facts that seem contrary to their opinion. Ignoring them is unacceptable.
  5. Always repeat the statements and claims of the other party to insure both clarity and respect.
  6. As hard as it may be, close the discussion by expressing any new information that you have learned from the other person. Give him or her the grace you demand for having personal perspectives.


The truth hides in mysterious places. Sometimes, in the opposition.

This entry was posted in 1. The Power of Who You Are, 4. The Power of Relationship and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to See No Evil

  1. Jeff, I saw this happen in a TV show I was watching. It was the oddest, but neatest experience. First of all, no one would concede that the other party could possibly be right, so that took a few minutes of what I thought was wasted time. I upheld both parties to be of good nature and expected them to act as such. You don’t have to agree, but you do have to acknowledge that the other person should be as respected as you…

    One party, finally came around and said, look, we’re going nowhere here. The other party never did see the other side and left even more damaged then she presented herself. I felt bad for her the most because she’ll carry that pain for no real reason, other than needing to be right. And that pain will only hurt her more, not the others!

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