Managers in most companies would do well to study up on something called the “false consensus effect.” Whether they know it or not, they are victims of this particular logical bias. And the ramifications for a company are pretty important.
All my peers agree…
Put yourself in your last management meeting. Doom and gloom permeate the room, plans are made to alleviate the problems, strategies and tactics are batted around until a final decision is made on how to move forward. You feel pretty good about it. All your peers feel good about it. You reinforce with each other that you’re doing the right things. You feel like you’ve got a good story to tell your employees- you might even be a bit optimistic about how these plans will strengthen the company and, in the long run, make your business stronger and more successful. You pat each other on the back and draft the communication to the rank and file to announce the good news.
The communication goes out and it does absolutely nothing to buoy morale. If anything – morale goes down. People start to talk about how out of touch management is and begin to loose faith that they know what they’re doing.
“What happened?” you asked. We all agreed and believe that this is the best approach. It’s a good plan, so why would the employee base think we’re out of touch.
But what did they think?
One of the reasons this may be happening is the “false consensus affect.” What this means is that we tend to think everyone thinks the same way we do. Because you and your management team all thought things will be hunky dory based on your wonderful plans – you think everyone else will feel the same way. Each of us think we are representative of everyone else. If you think things are going to be okay based on your conversations –you believe everyone else will hold those same beliefs.
Unfortunately, that’s not true.
How do you avoid this problem? As the old saw goes… the first step in fixing a problem is recognizing you have one. Knowing that your opinion may not be the same as others gives you the space to think through how best to communicate the information throughout the organization.
Second, get a read on the rank and file before you release information. Find out where their heads are at. Use that information to redefine your message in light of your audience’s point of view. If they think things are bad – recognize it and validate their feelings. Show them you understand and that you believe what they believe (to a point.) Your goal is to move them from their point of view to yours, and knowing where they are starting from shows them you’re connected – you’re one of them. Remember, the false consensus effect works both ways… they think you think like they think. Not recognizing how they think communicates that you don’t know what’s going on. After all, they know it, why don’t you.
Reinforce, reinforce, reinforce.
Repetition can even make false information more true. I’m not suggesting you repeat false information – simply that repetition can help get the good news across better.
Think about this issue – I’m sure that there will be a need to communicate more news to your organization as we weather this storm.
Remember – it’s not what you think – it’s what they think you think.
Paul Hebert is Vice President of Individual Performance Strategy at Creative Group Inc, writer, speaker and consultant. Paul focuses on influencing behaviors and driving business results through employees, channel partners and consumers. He is dedicated to creating true emotional connections often overlooked in our automated, tech-enabled world. Using proven motivational theory, behavioral economics and social psychology he has driven extraordinary company performance for his clients. Paul is widely considered an expert on motivation, incentives, and engagement.