Relaxing with Rob

Avoid Snap Judgments

April 05, 2020 Rob Sepich Season 1 Episode 42
Relaxing with Rob
Avoid Snap Judgments
Show Notes Transcript

In circumstances that don't require snap decisions, consider three ways of tolerating stress in order to improve your judgment.

For your convenience, here's a non-affiliate link to the Malcom Gladwell book Blink that I mention.

:

[ music ] . Hi, this is Rob Sepich, and welcome to Relaxing with Rob. Are you subject to prejudice and bias and other quick judgments that are often just plain wrong? I know I am, and I work really hard not to be. We talked before about how the stress response has a purpose in our evolution, but that these days, it's actually needed only a fraction of the time that it gets triggered. Well, I think that our ability to make snap judgments is similar. When you're walking across an intersection and you notice a car that's not slowing down for their light that just turned red, you need to make a fast decision to jump out of the way. Malcolm Gladwell does an excellent job outlining people who make great decisions just beneath their level of consciousness in his book, "Blink." He writes about a firefighter who cleared his crew out of a kitchen that was on fire just seconds before the floor gave way. And he couldn't explain why he did this, but something just didn't seem right. And it turned out the fire was from the basement, and his boots were just a little warmer than normal. And that's likely the signal he was operating from, but he didn't consciously know it at the time. So these snap judgments can be lifesaving. University Police have often told students to trust their instincts if they're in a situation that doesn't feel safe. It means it's probably not safe. I think the issue is we continue making these snap judgments in situations that don't really call for it, and we might not even be aware of it. For example, when we're anxious and pressed for time, we seem to latch onto the first impression we receive, and then we believe it's correct. In fact, we then look for evidence to confirm it. And we find it--even if we're creating it! Implicit bias and confirmatory bias are quite real. This is a tricky subject because otherwise well-intended people who pride themselves on being free from prejudice ("I don't see color") are still prejudiced. In fact, experts say these people are harder to work with than those who admit their prejudices but are open to examining them. When I would chair search & screen committees, we'd always take time in the first meeting to talk about implicit bias. And that's why our HR department would redact applications so we wouldn't know the names or gender identity or other non-relevant details. We're all subject to viewing others prejudicially, even if we're from an underrepresented group ourself. Here's a personal example. In college, I got some extra credit points in a class for volunteering in a senior center, but then I continued doing it after the semester because I liked it. The job was talking with, but mostly listening to the residents. And I learned so much from these visits. And since then I've always been comfortable around older people. But then very gradually, something bizarre happened: I got older. In fact, I always appreciated when talking with my daughter about a health challenge, she'd say, "Well Dad, you've got to understand, you're old-er." And I'd say, "Thank you for the -er." Anyway, I've got to admit that I've become less comfortable around older people. In fact, I think I've become somewhat ageist for the first time. And I know why. It's obvious to me that I identify more and more as one of them. Groucho Marx famously said that he wouldn't want to belong to a club that would have him as a member. But by admitting my prejudice, I can work through it. And I am. I'm moving back into the appreciation mode of what I can learn from people who are farther along on the path than me. In general, although I can say it has challenges, they tell me that "the water's fine." College students I'd help with test anxiety would describe how they'd gravitate toward the first possible familiar answer in multiple choice exams, just to get through the test as fast as possible. And of course they were often wrong. When they could learn to mindfully sit with the stress a bit or reframe it as "energy," they could find better answers, like the always difficult option of, "more than one of the above, but not all of the above." With respect to confirmatory bias, we like to be around people who are similar to us, and hear news from sources that align with our political beliefs. It's simply more comfortable. But if you can tolerate a little anxiety, it's enlightening what we can learn about other people. And we might discover that we don't hold a monopoly on the truth. Finding common ground is much easier when we understand the other side. In a later episode, I'll share my all-time favorite commencement address that we would discuss in my class. And I will freely admit my confirmatory bias in selecting it. So as I hope you're gathering, I'm not acting like I'm above any of this. But if you'd like to experiment, here are three ideas on tolerating anxiety to avoid snap judgments. First, think of a friend you didn't really like the first time you met them. There was just something about them that may have rubbed you the wrong way. But over time, your feelings changed. Maybe you saw them at a deeper level, or understood their background, or you figured that what you first noticed was kind of a protective coating that they let dissolve once they figured you were safe. Isn't your life a little richer because you hung in there and saw past your first impression? And if so, why stop there? The next time somebody you meet rubs you the wrong way, at least consider that you're probably not seeing their essence. I love it when my first impressions are proved wrong because it keeps me open-minded for what comes next. Second, act like a political scientist or a cultural anthropologist and as non- judgmentally as possible, expose yourself to a news source with a different bias. You might need to monitor your pulse or your blood pressure while you're doing this. But it can be helpful to understand more about why some people believe what they believe. And third, and I think this is the most powerful one, slow down. I think of a photography book that showed various nature scenes from both fast and slow shutter speeds. Like a waterfall at 1/800th of a second shows individual droplets, but at 1/2 a second, it's a pattern of movement. So the same reality you're looking at will seem completely different from a mindful perspective. Maybe that critical remark from a family member that triggers your anger could be seen as a pattern of that person's fear, and that insight on your part might permit a much more helpful or empathic response from you. Thank you for listening, and we'll talk again soon. [ music ] .