A Human Approach

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Taking Noise Seriously

How does noise affect you?

Are you one who needs some noise – you like to have people around you, music playing or the T.V. broadcasting in the background – or are you one who loves quiet so you can hear the sounds of nature or be with your own thoughts?

Our preferences likely shift somewhere on a sliding scale between full-out distraction and hearing the voice of God.

But it’s not just audio noise that has an effect on us.

I would not be able to give the 395 pages of NOISE by Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony and Cass R. Sunstein justice in a 74-second blog but it’s worth a shot. You see, the research in this book cites several cases where we contradict ourselves in judgment because of internal noise. Take court judges, for instance. They statistically make different rulings and hand out different levels of sentencing for the same crime. And it’s not just different between judges but the same judges, on different days, in different moods, with different circumstances who will impose a greater or lesser penalty than they did the week before or may do the week following. They refer to it as a “sentencing lottery”.

“Cognitive biases and other emotional or motivated distortions of thinking are often used as explanations for poor judgments,” says the authors. Four people can be approved for a loan and the fifth, equally qualified candidate, rejected. Biased? In fact, our preferences, behaviours, choices, judgments, and decisions have so much to do with the noise going on in our minds.

Often noise is chalked up as a bias when noise could be about feeling hungry, tired, or having to do with an earlier argument, weather, or that the individual you’re dealing with reminds you of someone else. Noise could also be the excitement of it being your birthday, that you feel strongly that your colleagues will agree with you on the matter or it is simply earlier in the day.

How can we conquer the emotional impact of noise and be more consistent with our judgments?

Aha! ~ Argue against yourself.

When it comes to making important decisions about which candidate to hire, the weekend-away request of your teenage kid, moving the family, merging or taking on a business partner, or something pivotal, especially that affects others, challenge yourself to slow down your process and take a different perspective before you decide.

Assume that your first decision is off the mark and think about a few reasons as to why that might be. Ask yourself what these new considerations might imply. Measure your noise – good or bad – and maybe even table your final judgment for a different day.

“Good decision making must be based on objective and accurate predictive judgments that are completely unaffected by hopes and fears, or by preferences and values,” say the authors calling NOISE “A flaw in Human judgment”. I believe it is a gift of feeling and awareness. Learn to use it wisely.

Diving into a Flaw in Human Judgment and sharing a few more examples on The Human Approach Youtube channel. Look for the tile, Taking Noise Seriously. See you there!

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