Avoiding False Consensus as a Leader

 In Featured, Leadership

As a leader, it’s important to understand that people think and learn in very different ways. There have been times that I’ve been frustrated with an employee for not doing as I asked, only to realize later that they simply did not understand what I wanted. Although what I had told them may have made sense to me, they didn’t understand it the way I did. Other times, I’ve made the mistake of assuming everyone in a room thinks similarly to me.

This is referred to by psychologists as the False Consensus Effect.

In 1977, a psychologist by the name of Lee Ross decided to conduct an experiment that would illustrate the idea that people can falsely assume that others think similarly to themselves. Ross believed that people often formed a “false consensus” about the beliefs of others.

Participants were asked to read about different conflicts and would be told two separate ways that the conflict could be addressed. They were then asked to guess which option other people would choose, which option they chose themselves, and then to describe the attributes of those who would choose each option.

Ross found that most subjects tended to believe that other people would do the same as they would. The subjects would also describe people who thought as they did with positive terms. Those who chose differently were often described in a negative light.

This false consensus is something that every person possesses, to an extent. As a leader, it is important to be mindful of the idea that you aren’t going to be right all the time. Sometimes you’re going to need to take advice from others. Sometimes you’re going to need to find a different way to explain something so that your team fully understands.

If you can check your assumptions at the door, you will be able to communicate much more effectively. Part of being a leader is learning how to interact with people, and understanding how they think. By doing this, you will become a more effective leader.

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