Published on November 11th, 2016 | by Nancy F. Clark0
Are You Thin-Slicing Your Thinking At Work?
By Christine Bailey—
Our world is so noisy, busy, and full-on, that we regularly thin-slice our thinking; that is, our brains rapidly cut through all the data coming in to select a tiny sliver of information and ignore and filter out the rest. This allows us to gather, analyse, decide and take action without delay. It’s efficient, but it’s not always accurate and we can easily miss the most important elements.
Remember the world-famous awareness test from Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris? If you are among the 50% of people who didn’t count the number of times the basketball players passed the ball correctly—so that you actually saw what was really going on—you will know that paying attention to more than one task at a time, multi-tasking, simply doesn’t work. If you haven’t seen this test, try it now!
My friend and super-successful executive coach Henry Rose Lee has a unique perspective on what people stand to gain or lose from not paying attention because she’s faceblind. While she can’t easily recognize faces of even close friends and family, her way of seeing people bypasses any “aesthetic bias.” She looks beneath the surface to see what’s really going on. She explained what happens when we stop paying attention:
We stop listening
In an earlier article, “Want to be heard, be quiet,” we learn that most people prefer to broadcast rather than listen. In a world that has become more digital and collaborative—where everyone struggles to be heard—the temptation is to shout louder. But this is not necessary. In her mega-selling book Quiet: The Power of Introverts, Susan Cain explains, “We don’t need giant personalities to transform companies. We need leaders who build not their own egos but the institutions they run.”
We miss the 3rd dimension—the “voice of the system”
If we’re not really paying attention, we tend to focus on what has already happened, rather than what is about to emerge. “Conscious Leadership” is a new type of leadership that encourages people to listen for the “voice of the system” and enjoy the challenge of looking ahead, rather than the angst of chasing to keep up.
We allow ourselves to be ruled by our unconscious bias
If we’re not really paying attention, we tend to listen to the lazy voice in our heads. This is the voice that quickly jumps to easy, yet unhelpful conclusions. It’s the voice that perhaps tells us that all tall, thin men with glasses are maths teachers or accountants. Or that “Men take charge and Women take care.” In her brilliant TEDx Talk, Kristen Pressner, Chief Head of HR at a multi-national firm, advises us to “Flip it to test it.” How does “Women take charge and men take care” sound? If it sounds silly, you’ve probably got an unconscious bias.
Be Curious and Interested
We all know how wonderful it feels to have someone else’s undivided attention. I love this story that Henry told me: “Imagine this; you go to a party and there are loads of people there. Some you know and some are strangers. Most people either find the people they know and like and hang out with them. Or they do a bit of flitting about like a butterfly—connecting only slightly before moving on to some other story or gossip that’s more entertaining. Henry’s friend Jeanette has a different approach. She’ll start talking to a stranger and she will focus all her attention on what they’re saying and how they’re saying it. Too many of us start listening to someone’s conversation, only for it to trigger our own story or ideas which we feel we must share. When a stranger starts talking, Jeanette keeps listening and asking questions. She says very little apart from questioning and responding to the answers she receives. And when she leaves, everyone in the party said she was the best guest; the most fun, the most interesting, and yet they know nothing about her!”
Paying attention pays dividends
According to research, what we pay attention to will impact our brains and our choices. We are likely to make much better choices when we’re paying attention. Here are some suggestions about how to do this:
Challenge your own thinking
This will give you much better insight into your own thought process. As Richard Tyler, author of Jolt, says “when you start to upgrade your THINKING and refresh your ACTION, your outcomes will shift.”
Ask for 2-way feedback
Giving feedback has become a prolific part of professional development but sadly it is often associated with criticism and judgment and is therefore feared. Feedback can be incredibly useful in helping make positive changes, if we’re willing to be proactive and embrace it. Sheryl Sandberg was recently asked “What’s the number one thing you look for in someone who can scale with a company?” Her response? “Someone who takes feedback well. Because people who can take feedback well are people who can learn and grow quickly.”
Be in the room
How often are people physically in the room, but their minds are elsewhere and listening to their inner chatter or critic? Richard Tyler encourages people to “be in the room: alert, watching, listening, noticing, choosing and reacting.” Being “in the room” will help you to spot new opportunities, grab them and be extraordinary.
One of Henry’s principles for making sure you don’t take anything at face value is to do a brain dump after a key meeting. Write down all your impressions of the people you met and how they might be thinking and feeling—sometimes this information is more telling and useful than any action plans. Do this within 10 minutes or the rest of the world will interrupt your thought-download (new calls, texts, emails, conversations and new thoughts).
Be proud of your one-track mind
Miller’s Law says that the number of pieces of information an average human can hold in their short-term working memory is 7, plus or minus 2. Be proud of your one track mind; with our fast-paced, always-on brains, 5-7 thoughts every 8 seconds is more than enough!
Dr. Christine Bailey is a senior marketing leader with 25 years’ experience of business to business marketing in the technology sector, most recently as Marketing Director, EMEA & Russia at Cisco Systems. Recently, she was included in B2B Marketing’s Top 10 Most Influential Women in Martech. She is a respected thought leader and speaker. See her TEDx Talk Unconventional Career Advice.
Article Photo by Paul Gorbould