Going Against the Grain

Don’t trust your brain.

There are some very systematic ways that the brain is designed to be able to function, but it’s not helpful to you in life and business. Here’s some examples based on known psychological concepts and theories that can help you make better decisions.

Primacy and Recency – Your brain is wired to remember the first and last things that you’re presented with. So, if you’ve heard the old adage, “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression,” then you know that it’s definitely got some truth to it. Recency, is the basis of one of the biggest problems in performance management, the halo/horns effect. Not only are these really bad things to do to your employees, but it doesn’t make much sense to make important business decisions based on someone’s bad day.

Faulty Memories – We all feel like our memory is just about like a video camera, where we can rewind it and review what we’ve seen. But, in reality, our memory is relatively faulty. That’s why, even though we tend to think that eyewitness testimony is very reliable, the experts know that it’s not terribly useful. Generally, your memories are fairly patchy, even for things that have happened recently. When I was working in managment I’d keep a file for each employee. Every work shift, I’d write notes for myself with dates on them about what each employee had done (good or bad) and then at the end of the night, I’d stick those notes in each employees file. When it came time for an employee’s annual review, they were convinced that I had a memory like a steel trap. Actually, I just knew what my weaknesses were and planned for them.

Conformity – Human beings really don’t like to stand out, as a general rule. In the 1950’s, Solomon Asch performed some very interesting experiments. He was able to show that if a person was presented with a group who differed in their opinion, they would almost always conform to the group, even if the group was obviously wrong. This is really important knowledge to have when you’re a leader. If you gather a group of people together and try to get individual opinions, you’re very likely to miss out on that perspective. People are much more likely to be honest, if you’re speaking directly to them.

Overall, you need to be aware of how the brain works and what it likes. The more that you know about this, the more that you’ll be able go against what your brain is used to and get more accurate information.

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