5 years, 7 months ago

False consensus effect

Link: http://www.etc-architect.com/?p=192

As architects were are usually highly consensus driven. This applies to all architects even those that work in a non commercial environment. The important point in this is what is called the false consensus effect in psychology whereby we overestimate the extend to which our belief and opinions are shared by others or even identical to our own. This effect is quite common to all people, but more important and connected with higher stress potential to  all that work in a consensus driven environment. Since the fallout of the effect is seldom immediately as architects usually are people with a domineering personality, its real effect is often seen much later.

This perception  bias is sadly also something that training nor experience have no effect on, while most “old” hands in architecture, especially those that publish a lot such as myself think they can control. Often most people will also reject the effect disregards of how evidence is shown to them. The only point that training helps here is constantly to remind ourself of the tendency. The really strange thing is that of the pluralistic ignorance effect that is prevalent at the same time while being in logic contrast. The pluralistic ignorance effect is that we all tend to disagree in private with some points ,but publicly support the idea. Usually you would think that if we ourself are aware that there is a difference of public and private support we would act on that information, but this is again one of those ares were we as humans are not always following a strict logic approach. 

The key here is to convince rather than to preach beliefs or options as an acceptance of a shared belief or opinion is something that can only work toward a real consensus if that compromise includes our private agreement. However as stated before we all tend to guard our private belief often in deep contrast through our public belief so that there is no way to determine when this acceptance has taken place. This is also one of the reasons that a good consensus reaching process often goes on longer than we think is appropriate.

The second key outcome is that we need to apply the same to others and imply that they are not aware of these effects. Sadly the only way to do this effectively is to ask obvious questions that make us look bad at superiors in the first instance. The strange thing however is if you persist to ask obvious questions (not too many) a lot of answers suddenly start real discussions as most people under the influence of the pluralistic ignorance effect will start to shed the effect if a statement is put up to question in the open and a meaningful dialog can take place. 

This is also why many real leaders experienced in consensus building will plant question like this to be asked. If you continue this technique for some time you are usually seen by your superiors as a consensus builder and the negative opinions will shift into positive ones as everyone needs a wide held consensus to be successful. And even if you work as an architect in a non commercial environment such as open source development this technique will greatly help you as in any team the consensus builder is always the person people will go to if they are unsure.

Related Post