As part of a training programme, we conducted an experiment to review the news and find out how much of the information provided was opinion and how much was fact. To our surprise we found that the majority was opinion – the reporter’s, the politician’s, the interviewee’s.
Studies have also shown that when something is in the media, we can often distort the significance of the event. For example, if a crime scene is reported at a town we’re about to move to we might get the immediate impression that it’s not a nice area. But is it actually a bad area, or is this a very rare occurrence when you take into consideration the numbers?
Additionally, as an unusual event receives coverage, it can become escalated and cause public concern, giving rise to even more coverage, with potentially political consideration and funds diverted to it.
Our views can be distorted by what we believe is important, the frequency of an event and the ease of which we can recall it. This can happen at home with our relationships (eg. when people are asked how much of the housework they’d done, they can recall their contribution more easily than those of others), as well as our working relationships and how team members might think that they have contributed more than others to the overall task.
So, if this is the case with the news and with our view of our own contribution, could it not be the same when we are looking at statistics, project results/status, service levels etc? And should we be seeking to ask the non-obvious questions when given some data to ensure that you are not missing a very important point or giving it unnecessary attention?
For example, when asked to reduce the response times for answering calls in a contact centre to save on resources, the other variables hadn’t been taken into consideration eg. the longest time to wait for a call to be answered, the number who give up and call back again (increasing volumes), impact on customer loyalty.
It can also be the case that an organisation’s culture could be preventing people from providing the true picture. A blame culture, fear of making mistakes, senior executives who prefer not to hear that their ideas may not be workable etc, all contribute to an environment where many end up staying quiet, against their better judgement, or risk losing their job. All leaders have a responsibility to ask the right questions and get the full answers (warts and all) to make sure that they do not jump to conclusions.
So, when you next get given a set of data, step back and consider whether it could be only giving you one half of the picture. Is it analysing all the information needed? Is there another side to the story? Ask some more questions, until you’re satisfied. Are you building an environment of trust, where your team members feel confident to provide you with all the information you need?
It can be only too easy to get bogged down with the information presented (especially with the time constraints many leaders are faced with), but even with the news I find myself considering the validity, reliability, and significance of what’s being reported. When it’s reported that an event could happen to 1 in 10 people, actually that’s 9 out of 10 it won’t happen to!! Some people may call that “positive spin”, but I call that looking at all the facts. 🙂