But we get into trouble when these shortcuts are based on cultural biases that have been unwittingly encoded into our brains. They can lead us to draw wrong conclusions.
Oftentimes, these biases are based on similarity (“People like me are better than people who aren’t”); experience (“My perception of the world must be accurate”); and expedience (“It feels right, so it must be true”). As a result, we end up making major decisions based on criteria that doesn’t matter…the appearance, social position, mannerisms or talkativeness of a person. (Yes, in this culture, people who talk a lot are viewed as more trustworthy.)
It’s important to recognize your own biases and employ critical thinking to determine if there’s a solid basis for trusting and believing someone. Here are some tips:
- Buy yourself some time between receiving information and making a decision.
- Write out the precise steps that led to your decision and double check to see if you’re missing a vital piece of information or are misinterpreting something.
- Talk it over with someone. As you hear yourself explain the situation, you’ll be more likely to identify your own faulty thinking. Their feedback can be invaluable, too.
- Keep learning, because knowledge is power. The more you know, the less likely you’ll be duped or misled.
- In a business setting, have people write down their ideas, then review the ideas anonymously — that way you’re deciding based on the strength of the idea, not on the source.
Sometimes we make decisions that don’t feel right, because they go against our own notions of propriety and goodwill. To make healthier decisions, don’t always assume you must go with the flow for someone else’s sake. Develop the flexibility to be charitable to others, yet still have the common sense to take care of yourself.
Easier said than done, right? That’s why I wrote, “WHEN EMPATHY FAILS.” Along with my personal story, it’s a guidebook for enhancing self-awareness and empathically making decisions that protect yourself, while allowing others the dignity to live life as they choose. This is what I call EmD-5 or Radiant Empathy.