Sunday, June 14, 2020

Why context has more weight than i initially thought

In my journey of understanding i came across an important factor recently. Nothing beats your bias towards people than spending at least 1 hour talking to any person about any topic. And actually listening. While bias towards people tends to fall into a go/no go category(at least that’s the way i learned people judge others) the reality is much more complex. While it’s substantially easier to categorize people in fewer categories, i came to the conclusion that putting people in boxes is at least insufficient.

Here comes the first bias i encountered. Anchoring. This “helps“ you form an early and basic opinion about somebody as a whole, very early on, when you get the first signal about that person that you can relate to or oppose to. I have the impression that if you opposed something in the new person this bias gets activated faster. Maybe. I don’t know how to research this and it’s outside the scope of this text.

This occurred to me as a problem. I read something recently that focusing on what brings you and the other person together can truly maximize the potential of any interaction or relationship you have. When anchoring on something you disagree with from the start, you put on some glasses that never allow you to see the complexity of the other person because you’re just closed to ANY signals, regardless if you consider these signals as good or bad(this has nothing to do with reality, just your belief system and other biases). Small correction: you basically ignore signals that you might find positive and use the anchor, as when getting signals that you judge as negative, it usually counts towards doubling down on the initial negative anchor position. An actual first step is to do nothing. This is not as easy as it sounds. Doing nothing means refraining from something: using your anchor. Without this impediment you can actually start exploring the context.

I think the basic flaws of human understanding and collaboration are miscommunication and of course improper judgement(by this i mean drawing conclusions too fast on too little data). This sounds like another bias: overconfidence(will not get into this here, but feel free to google it).

I will not be specific in this text, because i want to present the model i discovered and the blocker at the end.

So, the first step is being “open” in simplistic terms, but as you saw above, doing nothing is not an easy task. Let’s assume you get over this step.

Once this is overcome, i think most misunderstandings and biases towards one another can be dealt with with at least 1 hour of honest communication. It does not have to be very personal, but it helps when you listen to the other person’s story: where did they come from, what decisions did they make at what time, what was their context back then etc. It basically boils down to:

  • what did the person know back then as in knowledge capital
  • what was the goal that person was striving for
  • how did the pieces come together for that person to make that specific decision that brought that person to the next important milestone

Repeat this until you get to today. While you go through the story, you will see another human being, with hopes, worries and fears, honest goals and decision making framework. As you start finding out more, you will see that although there might be values and principles you don’t agree with, put into context, everything starts to make sense. And with understanding comes, well, understanding. Which is something i value very much. Understanding let’s use get past the basic category mechanism and gives you a glimpse into the WHY.

This means two things:

  1. you now have data
  2. the data points are the ones with the most weight as seen by the other person(they’re basically saying: in a few words, this is how i got here, and trust me, i know because i’ve been there as the main actor)

They’re showing you their thought process, external factors they observed and how they connected the 2 into going to the next step. Wherever that is: jail, politics, industry, family etc.

Here comes the blocker.

Put yourself in a hypothetical situation: you are a judge which has basically 2 boxes(guilty or not). You need to be objective, unbiased and conclude on a category. All this, while knowing the context. The context makes sense, all the data that was truly available(not all the available data is equally accessible at all points in time, because each data point has a different weight which fluctuates over time) to that specific situation was somehow taken into consideration(not all decisions you make in your life permit you time to analyze and process your actions to their full potential, because you use your intuitive brain for time sensitive tasks or danger facing situations).

Now, when knowing all of this, it doesn’t just seem unfair to be categorized in only two boxes, but it’s insufficient.

Now put yourself in the position of the judge. You are refraining yourself from automatically categorizing into basic boxes and after understanding the context, boxes don’t make sense anymore. The complexity trumps the basic boxes. It’s a more abstract concept that does not only have a yes/no output. Each individual action might have, but looking at the whole, it’s not enough.

What do you do now? You basically demonstrated that your initial signal was not good/bad but the signal categorization activity was the wrong activity to apply. The less wrong activity was to get more data and understand the context better. Why, how, when, with whom and where.

Focus on the things that you have in common. While the context might be different, you both reached to the same point while traveling on different journeys.If you learn the other person’s context, not only you learn something new, but you gain a friend. The vast majority has good intentions. It’s really improbable that you actually meet a truly “bad” person.