Nahhhh! That makes no sense. In those very few areas where I’ve done a lot of homework and some listening to conversations about the news, it’s very clear that very, very few (say 20%?) can spot fake news (enough adverbial uses of “very?”). The newscasters and opinion writers can’t or don’t, and neither can John Q Public.
Though not the same thing, we know, based on hundreds of studies, that people can spot a liar 54 percent of the time — a ratio that is perilously close to pure chance. Spotting lies from people suggests that
Words are slippery items. We now know that the smart conversationalist listens to see whether the important word in a sentence is “dictionary-use” or “situational.” This is not an academic game. Understanding the distinction can be a matter of career life or death. The fact of the matter is that words mean what we want them to mean. For example, what did Obama mean when he commented that Trump is not ideological. “I think ultimately he’s pragmatic…”
Words are dynamic In most conversations, words are tweaked. Their meaning is about what one person is trying to get across. We know that tweaking may emphasize values, emotions, priorities or even a specific insight. Dictionary-speak , where the person is talking literally, is fairly rare in conversations. Instead, like Humpty-Dumpty, words mean what we want them to mean. Talkers often use words sarcastically and ironically. Sarcasm is pretty obvious.
If you voted Trump, don’t expect too much. If you voted Clinton, the world is not at an end.
Candidly, I was 80% shocked and surprised, and about 20% merely reflective. What created these stats for me was last week’s blog, What’s the noise really all about?--a blog that defined populism and that has now become predictive of Trump’s success. Populists believe in their own virtue—and that they are being mistreated by a small circle of elites. Added to that belief is the view that “if we work together, we can overthrow those elites.” That just happened in our election. What’s unique is that Trump’s win is the first time populism has elected a president--even though populist ideas have impacted voting throughout American history.
American history of populism This morning I rechecked the history of populism and gained a number of fascinating insights...
One of my regularly frustrating experiences is listening to legislators and ordinary people talking about what CEOs and senior executives should know about employees are doing five levels below them. That’s nearly impossible in big companies, unless like Wells Fargo’s CEO, John Stumpf it’s a widespread behavior that’s been going on for years. So I’m always watching for examples of business reality for my readers—reality, that is, that reflects my years of experience with top companies and my own philosophical orientation. All the better if that reality is supported by trustworthy research. A recent issue Economist dealt with a superb example of business reality: that lock-‘em-up mentality for white collar crime.
But first, let’s be candid about business magazines and newspapers. All of my antennae are out when I’m reading the Wall Street Journal and nearly all the American business magazines. More than anything else, before I look seriously on any article I’m watching to make certain the writer or the magazine takes a responsible attitude toward the community. My read of too many American business magazines is that they are too capitalist or too individualist and very little oriented to the greater good of the country. That’s not only a political issue, but also a moral issue.
The one obvious exception to that cautionary rule is the Brit magazine, The Economist, what some call rather snobbish in its appeal. But it regularly critiques itself, takes a stance toward the greater good, reflects wisely on business strategy and never fails to challenge conventional wisdom. It’s an expensive magazine, but brilliantly, often hilariously, written. The Economist has the largest business circulation in the world, except for the Wall Street Journal. That’s not necessarily good company since the Journal seems to have gone on a downward slide ever since the Murdochs took over. I get some sense, however, that Murdoch’s sons may be a bit more communitarian and responsible. But we’ll see. (FYI: I’m neither correspondent nor salesperson for The Economist)
Why this tangent and all this explanation? It’s not just that too few business people pick up an intelligent piece of news. Though I’m clearly a capitalist, I agree fully with David Brooks, that intriguing conservative, who has stated on numerous occasions that we need to be more communitarian and less individualistic, more moralistic and less utilitarian, more emotional and less cognitive. More emotional and less cognitive applies directly to techie algorithms. They have their uses, but they’re extremely biased. As Cathy O’Neil has wisely written, they are Weapons of Math Destruction: they increase inequality and threaten democracy.
Are we soft on white collar crime? The Economist’s Schumpeter points out that both right-wing populists and left-wing progressives think that society is too soft on white collar-crime. That’s the conventional perspective, but how accurate is it? Two new books, one by Harvard’s Eugene Soltes and the other by Duke’s Samuel Buell, who was the lead prosecutor in the Enron case, provide the research and evidence demonstrating that we are now tougher on white-collar crime.
We’re punishing white-collar criminals more severely because of two bills: Sarbanes-Oxley (2002) and the Dodd-Frank (2010). Other countries are moving in the same direction, including states as diverse as South Korea, Oman and Spain.
Although I appreciate Senator Elizabeth Warren’s highly productive rhetorical indictment of the Wells-Fargo Company and CEO, as Schumpeter points out, even prosecutorial zeal does not always result in convictions. Prosecutors face very difficult trade-offs and that includes protecting the rights of unpopular bankers.
This piece of reality is very significant and goes against the grain. Those mortgages that brought down several finance institutions were perfectly legal. The people doing the buying were probably just as much in the dark as the people doing the selling. And furthermore, most corporate crime is not individual, but the result of collective action.
Right vs. wrong Populists like to think there is a bright line between right and wrong. Step over the line and you should go to jail. That’s naïve. Here’s what was initially surprising to me, but I quickly realized very accurate: “a great deal of wealth-creation takes place between what is legal and what is questionable.” (Remember the old truism? Ask for forgiveness, not permission! Having gone through numerous IRS audits, myself, and suffering only one small fine, that’s a great recommendation.)
Want some public examples? Bill Gates was hauled before the authorities for using Harvard’s computers without permission. Steve Jobs was involved in backdating stock-options to increase their value. Technology firms typically work with outdated legal regulations. Uber and Airbnb are regularly engaged in legal battles with regulators.
Fact of the matter—and this is something never to forget—new business typically tests the rules. That can result in updating the rules. Significantly for all of us, new businesses pushing the envelope often end up offering services that people want and that advance the common good.
So don’t be too quick to criminalize white collar behavior.
Over the years women and their emotions have taken a beating in the workplace. You know the accusations: women are shrill, emotional and teary. Having worked with some very tough females over the years, I've never been willing to believe all the malarkey about women and emotions. I've also noticed a lot of those emotions to be typical of men. However, whatever your experience or beliefs about women and emotions, current research indicates fairly clearly that women can often benefit from the use of anger.
Most of us are familiar with the anger antics of Rahm Emmanuel, former Illinois legislator, former Chief of Staff for Obama, and now the mayor Chicago. I kept a copy of Ryan Lizza's New Yorker article on the theatrics of the colorful, obscene Emmanuel just for the sake of some needy clients. In the article, Lizza points out that Emmanuel seems to employ his volcanic moments for effect ...
It never seems to go away. You know. The colleague you're never sure you can trust. Or the one who regularly promises but rarely fulfills. And most of us are bad about spotting liars and deception. But there are a few things we know for certain about that tough subject. And for business folk, there's one reality about deception that always rings true.
Powerful people are better liars and more difficult to spot. And Dana Carney of Columbia University as proved that. Those of us with a background in rhetoric and nonverbal research have believed this for years, but we're glad to see that someone has at last validated our well-educated hunches.
Carney's subjects were not politicians, at least not governmental politicians, but business bosses and employees. The bosses, with larger offices and more power were tasked to do such things as assign employee salaries. Half of all the research subjects were instructed by a computer to steal $100, and, if they could convince an interviewer that they didn't take it, they could keep it. The other subjects were also questioned in the interviews. The interviewers were trained to identify deception. (Although the article didn't say so, it reflects the work of Paul Ekman, the expert in deception, who I referred to in a previous blog: Reflections on BSing.)
The subjects were measured on five variables that indicate lying, variables that can't be easily measured in any other context.
What the research shows is that "if you give people power, they're more comfortable lying, and it will be harder to tell they're doing it."...
Some time ago I heard David Brooks comment that the American public pays way too much attention to human foibles. And in an astute Journal article, Joe Queenan argued the same case. The Obama impeachment fantasy is another case in point.
I learned years ago that paying much attention to a politician's foibles, especially when the person was near genius policy-wise, and the country needed his or her expertise, was often a horrible waste. Richard Nixon, a documented dissembler, eventually had to go because of the Watergate Scandal, yet his contributions to international relations are among the greatest of the 20th century: successfully negotiated a cease-fire with Vietnam, opened the People's Republic of China and initiated detente with the Soviet Union.
In my mind, significant expertise that benefits the the public community usually trumps personal foibles. Inevitably, therefore, I had no difficulty admitting that Bill Clinton was a sexual jerk with a zipper problem. And as far as I was concerned, that was his problem, not worthy of censure, impeachment or discussion. His expertise in many areas of national importance was impeccable--and the nation as a whole would have been better off if Clinton's sexual peccadilloes had been ignored. As David Gergen, advisor to three Republican presidents, has since pointed out--on many policy issues Clinton was a genius. Gergen points specifically to ...
I’m not at all certain why gossip has acquired such a decidedly shady reputation. But before you send me off to Dante’s 8th Inferno, reserved solely for management and executive development consultants, let me explain my thinking. Two-thirds of all conversations, whether in business or otherwise, are about social relations. Most of which can be labeled gossip. Only a very small amount of that can be thought of as malicious. Indeed, the term gossip originally meant “godsibs,” what business people refer to as their peer group of friends. Gossip is typically the most useful information about an organization. It also comes equally from both men and women. So, I want to shine a significantly different light on all gossip, including “malicious” gossip.
First, some important conclusions: I soak up gossip like a monstrous sponge because it’s just damned useful stuff. It’s also utterly impossible to stop organizational gossip, so don’t waste your time trying. Actually, attempting to stop gossip is futile at best and destructive at worst. It’ll just go deeper underground. Furthermore, you’ll be very sorry if organizational gossip is no longer readily available.
Gossip and the big picture Before we narrow in on gossip, it’s important to understand the stuff of communication in organizations and societies. The beginning place for all language is to understand that language evolved ...
One of the most effective tools for successful communication is nearly always off the radar screen. Two words sum it up: anticipate misunderstanding. No matter the business situation, talkers inevitably overestimate their effectiveness. Even when they’re warned of the likelihood of misunderstanding.
Stuart Hall, the cultural theorist, has a delicious way of expressing this: There is no necessary correspondence between encoding and decoding. In other words, just because you composed a message for a specific listener doesn’t mean she’ll understand it.
So if you think your colleagues don't express themselves well, even in very important settings, you may be right. Most of us seriously overestimate our ability to communicate effectively. We’ve known that for years, but now comes a business study demonstrating how great the potential for miscommunication really is.
Ambiguous messaging Boaz Keysar and Anne Henley, psychologists at the University of Chicago, studied 40 pairs of listeners and speakers. In the research the speakers were given ambiguous messages to deliver. Fully aware of the ambiguity at the time they assessed the respondents’ understanding, they still overestimated the recipients’ understanding. The talkers believed that their intended meaning was understood "most of the time." That belief, like a lot of other so called "soft skill" beliefs, doesn’t stand up to the scrutiny of research.
The research showed that nearly half the time those speakers thought they were understood, they were actually wrong. In 46% of the cases there was a breakdown--the listeners didn't get it. What was most surprising was that even though the speakers were warned that the information that they were to communicate was ambiguous, "they still thought they managed to convey their intention with intonation."
Illusion of Control Keysar and Henley suggested that this overestimation of communication effectiveness is indicative of the "illusion of control." The psychologist Ellen Langer defines it as the tendency for people to overestimate their ability to control events, for instance, to feel that they control outcomes that they demonstrably have no influence over. People show a high illusion of control when they are allowed to become familiar with a task through practice trials—like, for example, throwing dice. Lottery devotees often believe that when they select the numbers, they have a better chance of winning than when the numbers are selected randomly.
Team Canada beat Team USA in the 2002 Olympics, but it was later believed that the win was the result of the luck of a Canadian coin that was secretly placed under the ice before the game to control the outcome. The members of Team Canada were the only people who knew the coin had been placed there. The coin was later put in the Hockey Hall of Fame where there was an opening so people could touch it. People believed they could transfer luck from the coin to themselves by touching it, and thereby change their own luck. Though the coin is not actually lucky or helpful in any way, people believed it was so they thought it could give them better luck. Completely irrational.
Raising your batting average So how can a person get beyond illusion to check out the effectiveness of his or her communication when the issue is really important? Here's where effective questioning can come to the fore. Notice my adjective, "effective." All too often, checking on the accuracy of message reception or understanding is of little value. Some of the most popular means of checking accuracy are merely clichés. Here’s a list of typical examples, along with an analysis of their real value.
In each instance, a person makes a statement, then “checks” to see whether he’s understood. The tone of the question may be kind, arrogant, demanding, or even thoughtful. Take your pick. Whatever choice you make, the question doesn't anticipate misunderstanding. The analysis of the question is always spot-on.
"Did you hear me?” Absolute waste of time and verbiage. The answer is nearly always yes and means zip.
"Do you understand me?" Nearly absolute waste of time and verbiage. (It's just possible, though rare, that someone might respond in the negative and ask for further clarification.) Still, probably zip.
"What did you hear me say?" Nearly absolute waste of time and verbiage. People can parrot and paraphrase without ever understanding the meaning or implications of a message.
Using the implication question The most effective means of checking a message is through what's called an "implication question." After a message, you come up with a question like this: "Based on my conversation, what do you see as the next two or three steps?" You're asking a question regarding information you have not given, and asking them to draw some conclusions. Then, by listening closely, you can tell whether or not the message was clear and understood. If so, hurray! If not, you've got to start over.
If you want to check your own understanding, use what I call the "reverse implication question" to validate your understanding. You've thought through what you understood was said, and made some tentative conclusions. So you respond with your own question: "Based on what you've said, here's what I think needs to be done. . . . What do you think?" And let the speaker respond. If he agrees, hurray! If not, the two of you have got to go back to ground zero again.
One thing is not debatable about communication. Overestimating our effectiveness is a regular source of miscommunication. But the implication question is one highly effective remedy.
I've been musing about why, even when the consequences are harmless, some will and some won't say, "I don't know" about an issue of their obvious ignorance? If you're anything like most of us, it's a mixed bag.
Being a pragmatic soul, I'll ask why you should confess to ignorance. What's in it for you? Of course, it's an issue of simple honesty. But I'm unconvinced that simple honesty all the time is valued that much. When I’m presenting before a group, I look for an opportunity to say “I don’t know.” But no more than a couple times. Too many “I don’t knows” suggest that I’m unaware and dumb. It would be great if more people could occasionally admit to ignorance, but too much of that doesn't make for a job promotion. Overall, one or two “I don’t knows” in a half hour presentation makes for great credibility, but hold it to one or two.
The fact of the matter is that we all lie or cheat a little. Don't think so? In a charming study, the wry Dan Ariely of MIT, explored the subject of cheating, using--you guessed it--poker chips. To no surprise, he found that, yes, most of us will cheat a little, given the opportunity....