Social media has had a big impact on our society. On a positive note, it allows people to stay connected across the country and around the world. On the negative side, it brings out the worst in some people. One of the ways it does this is by like-minded people reinforcing negative or misinformed perceptions. The tendency is to seek out people and posts that agree with your beliefs, while at the same time ignoring or shunning those posts and people who do not align with your beliefs. In essence, they live in an echo chamber, and it is not healthy if we want to solve the problems we face.
This phenomenon is not new. How often have you seen a leader hire people who think or act just like they do, or who have the same experiences and values? This may result in us feeling comfortable with our hires because they fit in right away and we know how to work with them. But are they only reinforcing our perceptions rather than challenging them? So how do effective leaders get feedback that challenges perceptions?
Years ago, I was encouraged to give my whole management team a personality test. The results came back that out of four elements, 80% of us all had the same three factors of Sensing, Thinking, and Judging, which meant we were fact-driven analytical people who made up our minds and moved on. The other 20% had the opposite result in one or more of those three traits. They were Intuitive people who relied on their gut or past experience. They used Feelings to often make emotional judgments. Or they were Perceptive, which meant they never really came to a final judgment until something was completed because they were always observing and gauging the situation.
The Feeling and Perceptive people on my team tended to drive me nuts because they thought differently than me, and it felt like they were always pushing against the tide of the other 80%. It was then that I had the epiphany: not only did I need to tolerate the other 20%, I needed to encourage and listen to them more. They were not fighting me. I was in my own echo chamber and they were challenging my perceptions—something the rest of the team was not.
I recently was in a situation where even though we had conducted a great deal of analysis, the outcome seemed preordained. The problem was that despite collecting a large amount of data, most of us kept immediately coming to the same conclusion, even though some other people were interpreting the data differently. Someone on the team made the statement that the eyes see what the brain believes, meaning most of us were looking for facts to support the decision we wanted, rather than exploring the data in full to see where it truly led us.
Think about your own team and how you tackle problems or opportunities. Do you have a bunch of like-minded thinkers, or do you have that person who often frustrates you because they offer contrarian opinions that make you rethink your position? Do you tackle a project with the end in mind, or do you explore something in full and let the information lead you to what should be the correct decision? Don’t let your company or leadership team become its own echo chamber; that’s how many successful companies end up failing. Identify the contrarians on your team, and step outside your normal surroundings to collect information that you would not normally come by.
Radio commentator Dennis Prager says, “I prefer clarity over agreement.” One can typically find agreement rather quickly, but it takes more time and effort to get full clarity. In the end, you’ll get a much more complete picture from which you can base your decisions.
Russ Kathrein is with the LBM Division of Do it Best Corp. based in Fort Wayne, Indiana.