Why is it we often think we have better answers than those that know more about a situation? I ask this of myself often and never get a satisfactory answer. This came to a head this week with the recent events in the execution of Troy Davis.
What makes us believe that we are smarter than a jury of 12, countless appellate court judges and an investigative panel? Why is it that we think we know more than the commanding military generals in Iraq? Considering that the President of the US has far more confidential information about a situation why do we still think we have a better answer? Even as a teenager your mom was always wrong despite her years of experience.
Why is that?
I believe that there are three components that make up my faith in another’s ability to make a decision better than the one I would make.
- Information – Does this person have more information than I do?
- Skill – Is this person more skilled in this type of decision? Is she better trained in this area or have better discretion and discernment?
- Intent – Is this person’s intentions aligned to make the best decision – is there a competing agenda?
Note that I said “a decision better than the one I would make.” This still doesn’t make it a good or bad decision, just whether this person is more qualified than me to make the decision. If these three things don’t register properly we will tend to question the authority.
Information is the easiest one to address. Usually people in higher position have access to more information than we do. The President clearly does, the CEO clearly does, and our boss usually does as well. What about peers, subordinates or friends?
Skill is a bit tougher. Most people tend to over estimate their own personal skill in an area and under estimate the other’s (see last week’s column). It would be very difficult to believe that you have more skill in military tactics than a General, yet it is still surprising how many people believe they have better economic chops than the Secretary of the Treasury, Tim Geithner.
Intent is the big one. I believe it is the single biggest reason we challenge expert opinions. If we believe a person’s intent is not aligned to making the best decision then we will not accept their answer as valid. Is it ever possible to get a decision that I believe is better than my own if my belief is that a politician’s sole intent it to get re-elected or have their party win?
What’s worse is that studies have shown that if someone disagrees with your decision and you try to overcome it with more data they are more likely to become more staunch in their position. If you can’t crack the initial intentions nut you are only going to make it worse trying to convince them with facts.
As leader, this is very important. You may well have more information than one of your employees and have demonstrated greater decision making skills over the years but if there is any doubt that your intentions are not aligned with your team’s, good luck.
Take a corporate ladder climber for instance; their intentions are constantly challenged. Once someone is labelled a climber people around them believe that their goals are selfish and therefore their decisions are instantly treated with a bit of skepticism. So you’ve got to make sure that your intention credentials are in order if you want to lead others.
Do you know what other’s think about your intentions? Have you ever asked? I haven’t yet because I thought I knew. Maybe I have IDD.