Category: Biases

Seeing both sides, with Empathy

img_0187Time to read: 3 mins

A while ago (a long time ago) I watched an episode of Comedian in Cars Getting Coffee.  As the title suggests, the show is about comedians in cars getting coffee with the host Jerry Seinfeld.  It’s a good combination of cars, comedy and coffee.

I watched an episode where the guest was Chris Rock.  Jerry picked him up in a 1969 Lamborghini 400s Miura. The dialogue and comedy were great.  Then there were some remarks about arguing both sided that got my attention.

 

A dialogue with Chris Rock
Chris: The ability to talk to a lot of people is freakish
Chris: Anyplace where there is a microphone people want me to speak, a funeral and book signing someone’s birthday. It doesn’t matter where I am.

Jerry: There is no subject that you can’t handle, you (as a comedian) have given some thought to almost everything.

Chris: We are professional arguers.  Not only can we argue, but we argue either sides.
Chris: If you walked into a school and saw your kid talking to 500 kids you think your kid was possessed.

 

A Freakish Ability
For Chris, the ability to speak to a lot of people and successfully holds their attention comes down to being able to see both sides.  He demonstrated this when hosting the 2016 Oscar Awards.

Despite the protests for the lack of diversity of the Nominees, he was able to entertain the majority of actors while still acknowledging the issues the lead to other actors boycotting the event.  It was a difficult situation; to talk in front of your peers about a very sensitive topic, where anyone could have been easily offended.

 

Seeing both sides
When solving a problem that involves negotiating and mediation.  We usually don’t spend enough time on the other side of the fence.  We may be able to see things from another person’s perspective but only for a short period of time.

By only briefly acknowledging someone else point of view; we can only briefly break out of our own biases before we return to own arguments and points of views that we are comfortable and familiar with.

 

Less time on the other side
Some of the reasons why we avoid ‘the other side’ is due to our inbuilt biases.  A point of view different from our own may cause some discomfort or may contradict our own beliefs.  This is known as Selective Perception (i.e. the tendency not to notice and more quickly forget stimuli that cause emotional discomfort and contradict our prior beliefs)

We also have a tendency to tune out when listening because we assume we know how others feel. This bias is known as the Illusion of Transparency (i.e. The tendency to overestimate how well we understand the personal mental states of others)

 

More time on the other side
By spending more time on the other side we can move from sympathy (a glib acknowledgment) to empathy (a personal understanding).

Having empathy builds trust between two parties and helps to build an environment that is collaborative, supportive, inclusive and sustainable. Having empathy also makes you feel good!

The only question is, which side is smart enough to go first?

Information vs Affirmation (& how to distinguish between the two)

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Time to Read: 3 mins
 
A cognitive bias describes a pattern of thinking that deviates from logical and sound reasoning.
 
While completing my degree in 2014, I still remember spending an entire class (3hrs) looking at the cognitive biases and how they effect organisations, management and decision making. It was the first time I had ever come across cognitive biases and I found the topic to be fascinating.  I started to reflect on my past decisions and wondered how much of my thinking was influenced by cognitive biases.
 
 
 
Examples
Cognitive biases was popularised by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman; they dispelled the belief that in business, humans made decisions based on evidence and logic. For their works they Kahneman (illustrated above) was awarded a Nobel prize in 2002.
 
Here are just two of the example to keep in mind as you continue to read:
 
  • Confirmation Bias:  The tendency to find information that only supports or confirms our point of view. And
  • Ingroup Bias: The tendency to to favour those that are in the same group as us.
 
 
 
The dangers of biases
By its very nature cognitive biases are unavoidable; in that, when they occur we are unaware that they are occurring. As we can’t  consciously control cognitive biases from happening, the only thing that we can do is be aware that they exist, and the situation where they are most likely to occur.
 
Having biases within ourselves is one thing.  But having biases in the technology that we use is something that we rarely think about.  Just as human bias is not immediately detectable, neither are the biases that exist it the technology that we use. To make sense of this topic I want to separate technology into two categories:
 
  1. Technology that we control and
  2. those the we don’t.
 
 
 
Technology that we can control 
This category describes technology that we know is accurate and true, in essence it’s technology without any biases.  As an example when we use a tool such as a calculator, a excel worksheet or even a map to get directions on our phones.  

 

When using these types of technologies we are confident that the information is real and that because information is in plain sight; you can identify street names and recognise building on a map.  You can see and understand the logic behind a calculator and control the formulas on a excel spreadsheet.

 
 
 
And technology that we don’t
Then we have technology that we don’t control.  Some examples of these technologies are large social media sites, search engines and intelligence assistance like Siri or Alexa.
 
At times (more often than we think) these technology will try to make decision on our behalf, they predict want we want to see and hide what we don’t.  Behind an attractive, simple and user friendly UI is an enormous amount of complexity which is hidden away from us.  Hidden, in the same way as our own cognitive biases.
 
 
 
A design problem?
Cognitive biases is something that we can’t control, but with regards to technology, this is something that we can control. The problem doesn’t lie so much with the technology, but in it’s design and design is something we have conscious control of.
 
Whether we are designers or not, at a minimum we should all be aware that biases do exist in some of the technology that we use and how they could be influencing our thinking and understanding.
 
 
 
Information vs Affirmation
Take some time to think about the two cognitive biases that were mentioned earlier…
 
When we are using tools that we control (i.e. that have no bias) we can be sure that the we are getting Information.
 
When we are using technology where biases exist, we are more likely to be receiving information that confirms our points of view and from sources that reflect a similiar opinions that we hold.  Whether our views are right or wrong, what we are getting is Affirmation.
 
I just think it’s important that we can distinguish between the two…