Facts, Truths, and Anchoring Part I

by Edward Henkler on October 1, 2013

Nearly 2000 years ago, Marcus Aurelius stated, “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”  In my humble opinion, that statement remains as valid today as it was then.  Nothing is absolute (except perhaps this statement…).  Scientists are even uncovering ways to reach a temperature colder than absolute zero.  What does that mean for us?  It means that we need to spend more time listening rather than defending our point of view.  Regardless of how certain we are of a “fact”, the reality is that it may be wrong and we are almost assured the other person sees it differently.  We would profit from ensuring we understand the other person’s perspective as it might suggest possibilities we haven’t considered.

Please keep in mind that I’m not suggesting the other person’s perspective is correct, only that it is likely to be different.  The current debates over healthcare reform, conflicts in the Middle East, global warming, abortion, and myriad other topics are clear evidence that very intelligent people can hold wildly divergent views.  The reasons for the differences are relatively unimportant but it is critical that you understand and even value the differences.  This is why you must seek to understand the other person’s perspective in any discussion.

Salespeople and negotiators are quite familiar with anchoring bias, which occurs with the first estimate or point-of-view we hear.  There is a classic example of this phenomenon which asks a group of students to guess how many states (countries) are in Africa.  There are a number of different figures referenced online so we’ll just say there are approximately 55 states.  Unless the students happen to know that number, they are likely to fall victim to anchoring as follows.  If they are asked to guess whether the total is more or less than 30 and then are asked for a specific guess, most answers will be close to 30.  If another group of students is asked if the total is more or less than 80, their specific guess will tend to be close to 80.  This has been demonstrated repeatedly in experiments.

The “fact” in which you believe is your anchor.  If you work to hear the other person’s perspective before gravitating to your anchor, you are more likely to find a reasonable answer, which just might be closer to the truth.

Don’t get anchored!

Anchored thinking

Anchored – don’t let your thinking get stuck

My next post will be about the wisdom of the crowds….

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