The Boss Show

Workplace wisdom with heart and humor

June 18, 2017

You’re Not As Rational As You Think, Part 2

Your mind plays tricks on you – constantly. In how many ways? Dozens, at least. Jim & Steve explore just a few of the many ways your brain doesn’t work logically. And lest you devolve into despair, they offer practical strategies for mitigating the natural biases of your mind, so your workplace decisions are more effective.

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Voiceover: It’s a Northwest Lifestyle Weekend on KOMO News. Now, a show for anyone who is or has a boss. This is The Boss Show, with Jim Hessler and Steven Motenko.
Steve Motenko: Today on The Boss Show, You Are Not As Rational As You Think, Part Two. Hi, I’m Steve Motenko, I’m The Psychology Guy, I’m a leadership coach in the Seattle area, and I also work with teams, management teams in organizations right here in the Puget Sound with my friend across the table.
Jim Hessler: I’m Jim Hessler, I’m The Business Guy, the founder of Path Forward Leadership Development, and the author, along with Steve, of the book Land on Your Feet, Not on Your Face. We do longitudinal, meaning long experiential workshop experiences, in which people get to explore what leadership means in a caring and very instructive environment. That’s what we do for a living.
Steve Motenko: Part 2 today of You’re Not As Rational As You Think. Jim, what is the greatest drug in the history of medicine? The one that has cured more diseases and relieved more pain than probably every other drug combined.
Jim Hessler: Well, I saw this earlier this morning when I was prepping for the show, and I thought, the obvious answer is death. I mean it cures your disease-
Steve Motenko: Oh yes it does. It relieves pain.
Jim Hessler: … And it relieves a lot of pain.
Steve Motenko: All right let’s just stop the show there.
Jim Hessler: I know there’s a trick to this question, so I’m trying to be tricky in my answer. Clean water comes to mind, or something like that. Something that’s just so fundamental to health that-
Steve Motenko: You’re going to slap yourself when I give you the answer.
Jim Hessler: Okay, fire away.
Steve Motenko: And the answer is … The placebo.
Jim Hessler: Oh interesting, got it.
Steve Motenko: So think of it, the placebo as I’m sure you know, is a fake drug that is administered in clinical trials to be able to compare the effectiveness of a drug that’s being tested, to nothing, which is what a placebo is, it’s nothing. Yet, in study after study, I don’t know if there’s ever been a study in which a significant number of patients didn’t receive significant relief from the placebo. Why is it? It’s because their minds have tricked them into believing that this may help them, may cure their disease, may relieve their pain. And in so many cases, when our minds believe something it happens.
One of the many ways … This is what we’re focusing on today, one of the many ways in which our minds play tricks on us. Jim we made the case last week that our minds aren’t anywhere near as logical as we think they are. We think we reason based on facts, and it would really shock us to realize in how many ways that’s not true. Today we’ll focus on the how many ways.
Jim Hessler: I accused you in Part One of this show of being dystopian here, that it’s like, “Wow there’s seven billion people on this planet right now, we got big problems to solve.” And I’m hearing from you it might be hopeless.
Steve Motenko: It’s not hopeless, but we’re not going to get there as logically as we think we are. So if we think that are minds exist for the purpose of efficiently, effectively solving problems, then we’ve got to think again.
Jim Hessler: Okay, so my question is, if we begin to recognize … And you’re going to run us through a whole bunch of cognitive biases, which I appreciate. If we begin to recognize how illogical we are, does that make us more logical?
Steve Motenko: It gives us the opportunity to become more logical. You’ve got to stay tuned, because we’ll get there, at the end of the show we will give you some tips on how to mitigate the problem that your mind doesn’t work as well as you think it does, and there are very practical and also very profound ways to do that.
Jim Hessler: I think, again reading through your notes for the show, it’s kind of tough. It’s kind of like getting a performance review.
Steve Motenko: But it’s a human performance review.
Jim Hessler: Yeah.
Steve Motenko: It’s not just targeted to “me.”
Jim Hessler: Yeah and it’s like, Wow, am I really, am I really this person? Am I really as biased as some of these things would tell me that I am? Because I don’t like to think of myself like that, I like to think of myself as a rational being.
Steve Motenko: Which is why this show might disturb you a bit, but also potentially wake you up. We said at the end of the Part One last week, you still have to make decisions, you still have to live in life, you still have to make decisions about moving forward, whether for you or for your workplace or both, and you should do it armed with understanding.
Jim Hessler: If you have an idea for a Boss Show topic, maybe you’d like to talk to us about leadership coaching, about working with the organization’s leaders, hey we’re good at what we do. Send an email to or call us at (206) 973-7377.
Steve Motenko: And Jim says we’re good at what we do, but we’re not really sure, because our minds-
Jim Hessler: Oh shut up!
Steve Motenko: … Are faulty.
Jim Hessler: Yes we are! We are good at what we do. That’s not a cognitive bias.
Steve Motenko: You don’t know. And your mind is faulty too. It doesn’t matter, you don’t have to believe us, you’re not going to believe us, because your mind is faulty. So, we want to talk today about the how. In part One we talked kind of about the why, and that to me was pretty intriguing, as The Psychology Guy. We want to talk about the how, the many ways in which your mind doesn’t work as well as you think it does. There are dozens of identified quote unquote, “cognitive biases” dozens of ways in which our minds work illogically, as psychologists know. We probably won’t cover all the dozens of them in this show but, we want to highlight a few of them for you, and once again, as Jim said, we would love to know what you think, what this means to you.
Jim Hessler: Stay away from sharp objects or firearms while you’re listening to this, because Steve’s about to destroy any sense of yourself that you have as an intelligent, rational being. Go for it Steve, have at us buddy.
Steve Motenko: With a set up like that-
Jim Hessler: Tear us apart.
Steve Motenko: The first one I’m going to call cultural bias. I don’t know that, that’s a psychological term, but it’s a truly over arching influence on how we think. That is, that exists beneath the level of our awareness in most cases. Your culture, the culture that you come from, and that could be your ethnic culture, your national culture, it could be-
Jim Hessler: Your religious culture, your family culture.
Steve Motenko: … Your religious culture, it could be your family … Exactly. Your culture, or your cultures, because we all come from a number of different cultures, color your thinking in ways you’re not even aware of.
Jim Hessler: This is a good reminder that we just did a couple of shows recently, about corporate culture, and if you haven’t listened to those you can go to and listen to that two part-er we did on corporate culture, which speaks directly to the way in which we’re not always thinking as independently and rationally as we think we are, that our thinking is often guided, I’ll use, by the culture of the organization that we’re part of.
Steve Motenko: I’m going to steal something from a podcast I just listened to last week, called The Hidden Brain, an NPR podcast, which is brilliant, highly recommend it if you’re interested in stuff like this. What they did, what researchers did, is they gave people two decks of cards. The decks of cards had … one deck had faces of black people and white people mixed together, the other deck of cards had good images and bad images. So the good images were things like love and peace and sunshine, the bad images were things like, the devil and anger and pain-
Jim Hessler: Were these faces or just symbols?
Steve Motenko: They were faces. The people were faces, faces of people, black people and white people.
Jim Hessler: Got it.
Steve Motenko: And what they said is, “Sort out this deck of cards, put the black faces together with the bad images, put the white faces together with the good images.” And they timed how long that would take. Okay?
Jim Hessler: Okay.
Steve Motenko: Then, they shuffled up the cards, did the experiment again, and said, “Put the black faces together with the good images, and the white faces together with the bad images.” Guess what happened?
Jim Hessler: It took longer?
Steve Motenko: It took longer. What does that say? What it says is, in our culture, we associate black or dark with bad. We associate white or light with good. It can’t not have an impact on how we perceive the world below the level of awareness.
Jim Hessler: You’re making a very, very broad statement there, I just want to point that out. I mean that’s basically saying everybody does that.
Steve Motenko: I’m saying that, that cultural influence exists in us at a sub conscious level.
Jim Hessler: Okay. Now here’s where I get stuck, this really puts me in a stuck place, and I don’t like to be in a stuck place, because I’m The Business Guy right? And so I’m hanging out with a lot of people like you, that are in coaching and psychology areas, and also a lot of people that are very socially oriented, and I hear this, “Jim, you’re a guy so you can’t possibly … you have unconscious bias against women.” And, “Jim, you’re a white guy, so you have unconscious bias against people of color.” And I hear that, and first of all, I guess it’s helpful for me to be challenged with that, but it’s also really not helpful in the sense that it presumes that I can’t get over that, that I’m doomed to be a white guy and I can’t possibly ever traverse that gap and engage in, and get past my unconscious biases. I feel pinned to the ground by people who bring this up with me on a regular basis and frankly, it kind of ticks me off.
Steve Motenko: Yeah, I understand that. So the understanding that we all have implicit biases, I think is important, because it expands our curiosity.
Jim Hessler: And I get that, and I’ve been listening to that for years and years and years, and trying as best I can. I have people that say, “No matter how hard you try, you can’t overcome that.”
Steve Motenko: Well, it’s not a black or white thing. It’s not a matter of you can overcome it or you can’t. No matter how hard you try, you may never be able to understand the black experience, understand the female experience, at the deepest possible level, I think that’s a given. On the other hand, you can try and you can come closer and closer and closer, by being curious, by being open, by listening, by being vulnerable, and you can expand your repertoire of your understanding, and that journey is worth it, even though the destination isn’t totally achievable.
Jim Hessler: Yeah, and I guess is, I really think about the part of this that I struggle with the most, is it seems … and I agree with you, it’s the attempt, it’s the process I’ll call it, of learning about your biases and being coming increasingly aware of them. But what it seems to preclude is our ability to help each other. I think in a lot of peoples minds, if I’m not of your tribe, or your gender, or your race, then there’s almost an illegitimacy to my advice, to my counsel, to my mentoring, my coaching or whatever, because I can’t possibly offer anything to somebody who’s so different from me.
Steve Motenko: That seems to me a kind of unenlightened approach from that other person.
Jim Hessler: Well that’s what I’m struggling with.
Steve Motenko: Because they have a piece of the puzzle, and you have a piece of the puzzle. And yeah, you’ll never be able to completely embody their piece of the puzzle to completely understand it at the level that they do, and if you work to understanding their piece and they work toward understanding yours, then we create a better world.
Jim Hessler: Right, so where I find the most frustrating thing that anybody can say to me in conversation, is this statement, “You couldn’t possibly understand.”
Steve Motenko: It’s not helpful. How does it help? How does it move anything forward?
Jim Hessler: But I hear it pretty frequently.
Steve Motenko: Okay, so then we need to coach that person on, “How is this thought you could not possibly understand, useful in this relationship?”
Jim Hessler: It’s not. And that’s why I say, if I have a cognitive bias, confront me with it. Make me deal with it.
Steve Motenko: For all these biases, our job is to try to understand better. Understand ourselves, in our own limited thinking, understand each other as well. Related to the cultural bias idea, is this notion of groupthink, which I’m sure you’ve heard of. It’s also called bandwagon effect. The thing is, without even knowing it, I tend to adopt the beliefs of my group. Again, it can be my culture, my workplace, my family, my community.
Jim Hessler: Because you want to be accepted by that group, you want to be part of it.
Steve Motenko: Right.
Jim Hessler: And part of that acceptance and belonging is, essentially a requirement that you go along with their thinking.
Steve Motenko: Right, and that desire to be accepted often exists beneath, again, the surface of our awareness.
Jim Hessler: And it happens in businesses.
Steve Motenko: Right. So a classic example, the company that manufactured the O-ring that was responsible for the shuttle Challenger disaster, there was an engineer in that supplier company-
Jim Hessler: Morton Thiokol.
Steve Motenko: … That knew that the O-ring had never been tested in sub freezing weather, and sure enough the Challenger was launched in sub freezing weather, and he wanted to say something about it, and groupthink suppressed him, and as a result there was a disaster. Again, one of the many ways in which our minds are not as logical.
Jim Hessler: But this brings up a really, really good point, which is, a lot of managers don’t like to have complainers in their midst. They don’t like to have people who say negative things. A lot of managers just try to create this very positive environment around them. If you’re just surrounded by people who agree with you all the time, you’re not having your most fundamental cognitive biases challenged in any significant way. And you really should attempt to surround yourself with people who disagree with you to a large extent, because then you’re getting smarter.
Steve Motenko: Right, because you’re getting more pieces of the puzzle.
Jim Hessler: And you have to defend your position, thoughtfully.
Steve Motenko: That too. It’s incumbent on leaders to understand that your perspective is always limited, your perspective is always limited. We were talking about doing a little piece on this episode about The Ladder of Inference, and we’re not going to have time to do that. You really need the visual, the graphic of it to understand it well, but go Google Ladder of Inference, if this kind of topic intrigues you, go Google Ladder of Inference. It’s alarmingly clear how limited our perspective is. So a good leader always looks to expand their perspective, getting more of the puzzle pieces to the table so that they can make more grounded decisions.
Another cognitive bias is called self-serving bias, I tend to give myself more credit than I give others. It’s a great study Jim. People were asked, “Who in history is most likely to go to heaven?” And there was a number of well regarded historical figures. Mother Theresa got 79%, she was the highest in the results, but when the subject, the person who was answering these questions was asked whether they would go to heaven, 87%.
Jim Hessler: Yeah, and there’s that whole thing about intentions right? About how we tend to assume that our intentions are good and we tend to judge the intentions of another person very poorly, then we look for confirmation bias to prove that their intentions were bad.
Steve Motenko: We’ll talk about confirmation bias a little bit later, but yeah absolutely. We know our own intentions, because we can see into them. Who doesn’t think their intentions are pure? So when we act bad, we say, “Well at least we had good intentions, we made a mistake.” But when we look at other people, we only see their actions, we don’t see their intentions.
Jim Hessler: We don’t look for the underlying reason for why they did what they did.
Steve Motenko: Right, so we tend to judge that the intentions behind their … if the behavior was bad, the intentions behind the behavior was also bad, it’s not necessarily-
Jim Hessler: Or how we interpret the behavior also drives us to think about what the intention was behind the behavior, because we’re just interpreting it, Ladder of Inference.
Steve Motenko: We’re saving the best for last. The single probably most well known, as well as maybe the most impactful cognitive bias that we have, is called confirmation bias. And confirmation bias is the notion that, A. The only thing that enters our reality, is what we choose to pay attention to. Anything we’re not paying attention to cannot possibly shape our beliefs, our values, our actions, so all that matters in terms of how we see the world, is what we pay attention to. And B. We tend to pay attention to things that confirm our preconceived ideas.
Jim Hessler: Yeah, and you can find whatever you want to find, when you’re out to find confirmation bias, you can find whatever you find, you can interpret anything you want to interpret, because you want to be right. Right? The whole idea behind confirmation bias, is we’re trying to prove ourselves right, because we don’t want to be wrong.
Steve Motenko: Right, because is we’re wrong, somehow we’re threatened. At a sub conscious level you feel threatened if you’re wrong, because we’re mammals and we need to control our environment to protect our survival. And every time we’re wrong we feel a little less control over the environment, so we look for things to back up our rightness. An obvious example, if you’re a Democrat, you probably lead liberal media and watch MSNBC, if you’re a Republican, you probably read conservative media and watch Fox News. You are paying attention to the things that confirm what you think you already know.
Jim Hessler: And that’s not to say, that some of that information isn’t accurate. Again, this gets kind of circular on me when we’re talking about this. Again, we don’t want you to throw up your hands and say, “Well there’s no way I can ever …” We want you to have an opinion. One of the things we talk about actually, in our workshop is, have a point of view. Right? By suggesting that you have defects in your cognitive ability and that you’re naturally biased in many ways, and you said at the beginning of the show, it doesn’t mean that you have to opt out of that responsibility of coming to conclusions, and coming to judgments and acting on them. You have to do it.
Steve Motenko: Have a point of view, but be curious about what you don’t know. Be curious about how your mind, in creating that point of view, may be working not quite as logically as you think. You still have to move forward, but you want to take in ever more information and hold your preconceived notions lightly.
Jim Hessler: And because this is The Boss Show, we bring this back to leadership, there’s a kind of hell in working for a boss who isn’t a curious person, who isn’t an open person, and there’s a kind of a wonderful growing experience that comes from working for a boss who is open, who goes on that journey with you.
Steve Motenko: Absolutely. Be that boss, if you’re a boss. Be that leader, if you’re not a boss, be the person who understands that there’s always more to learn, and that your job is to hold your perspectives lightly while still advocating for them as necessary.
Jim Hessler: You may be humbled as that happens. It might be a humbling experience, but being humbled is an important part of the leadership journey.
Steve Motenko: Exactly. Humbling experiences are good for all of us. They’re an important part of the life journey. The writer, Anais Nin said, “We don’t see the world as it is, we see the world as we are.” The way to mitigate your biases? Get curious, seek out other points of view, and I want to take that to the next level. Actively seek out points of view that are in opposition to what you believe. Set your own opinion on the shelf at least temporarily, and just listen to somebody’s totally opposing viewpoint with curiosity.
Jim Hessler: And if everybody agrees with you, ask one of them to disagree, just create a little debate society.
Steve Motenko: There you go, and taking it to even the next level, just as an exercise, argue from that opposing point of view, the one you don’t believe in. It’ll show whether you can truly listen, it’ll show whether you’re capable of stepping outside of your own perspective and seeking a more expansive view of reality.
Jim Hessler: Tell me all the reasons I might be wrong about all of this, I want to hear them all. The Boss Show’s produced by Boss Media, excuse me, by Path Forward Leadership, and our sound engineer is Kevin Dodrill.
Steve Motenko: If you missed any of the show you can get all of it online at that’s also where you can go to contact us, maybe to bring us into your workplace, also to subscribe to the podcast,
Jim Hessler: Thank you for listening.
Steve Motenko: And don’t forget, Rule Number Six.
Jim Hessler: Rule Number Six.

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