July 1, 2019 9:27 pm

Psychologists have known for some time that humans have a strong desire to be consistent (within our thinking/behaviour and with those we value). We are constantly comparing ourselves to others and are most comfortable with people who have similar views. What’s more, we also tend to move away from people whose opinions differ from our own. That is not to say we never seek diversity; we do – it is just that it is easier and more comfortable to be close with people who see things the same way we do.

This is in part because it takes a lot of effort to ‘hold’ opposing views in our mind -– essentially it takes more brain energy. So, the more we are experiencing ‘cognitive overload’, the more likely we are to seek the ease of being able to keep one perspective (similar to our own) in mind.

The ability to take on diverse views is further complicated by the fact that we don’t like to see ourselves as having been wrong (uninformed or narrow in our thinking).  So, the longer and more intensely we have been thinking/acting the same way, the harder it is to incorporate additional perspectives. Likewise, when all our friends/colleagues (people we respect) see it the same way we do, we are reinforced in our thinking. And of course, we don’t want to ‘disappoint’ or risk loss of respect from our peer group by becoming ‘inconsistent’ with the ‘norm’.

This creates a dilemma for leaders who want to foster the best decision-making at work. Research has demonstrated that the inclusion of diverse thinking improves both critical and creative thinking, ultimately resulting in practical outcomes for individuals and businesses. But, we have a lot going against us to make that happen.

Fortunately, science and experience have given us some clues to help overcome these barriers to stronger thinking.

3 Tips for better thinking and decision-making.

  1. Learn how to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Recognising that hearing a new/different perspective is going to be a bit unsettling. First, it is unfamiliar, and our brains prefer familiar. Anything that is different requires additional processing, and that takes energy. To save energy, our brains will ‘try’ to quickly incorporate new information into what we already know and if it does not fit, we often reject new information. That tendency is reduced if we purposefully choose to remain open. To make yourself more open, when the initial discomfort, resistance or rejection comes to mind, just let yourself be a bit uncomfortable. Keep reminding yourself that good thoughts/ideas are not necessarily the most comfortable ones.
  2. You may have to spend a bit of time learning to regulate your emotion/reactions. Particularly if you work in a context that is fast-paced or high pressure. Learning to stay ‘mentally calm’ when confronted with different views will provide a good foundation to keep your power of perception strong. One way to do this is to practice in situations where the stakes are low. Even engaging in casual conversations with people who are different helps – hearing a new perspective on something that you don’t feel strongly about can be a start for some people. If you are a little stronger, then a good practice is to expose yourself to divergent viewpoints that do matter to you. Even reading a news article that you know is published by someone that sees the world differently can help. Of course, you will need to read with an intent to understand, not defend or critique. Reading is good practice because you can ‘dip in and out’ as you feel uncomfortable – ‘re-group’ and try again to simply understand the other point of view.
  3. Build your curiosity. Psychology research has helped us see that curiosity can help mitigate fear/anxiety of uncertainty. Curiosity is a cognitive activity. It gets us wondering and asking: why, how, when, who, under what circumstance etc. As we ask these questions, we gain predictability and thus a sense of safety. The simple act of engaging our thinking and ‘taking charge of our mind’ by asking questions and processing answers, helps us feel in control. Suspending judgement as we learn more provides even more opportunities to ask what contributed to that perspective and what criteria they used to form their thinking, rather than initially rushing to judge its validity against our own (necessarily limited view).

In the spirit of new perspectives, I hope you will share your ideas. What has helped you incorporate diverse thinking for yourself or foster the same in your business?

Want more practical BrainWise tools?

Dr Connie Henson, the author of BrainWise Leadership, designs change leadership programs informed by the latest neuroscience research through Learning Quest.

Connect with us directly to learn more about our science-based services which include:

  • One-on-one leadership programs TalentFAST™,
  • Our team assessment and coaching program TeamFAST™ and
  • A variety of group-based culture-change programs, as well as online delivery.

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