Ever been wrong? Forced into damage control? Feel stupid after-the-fact? Here's quite possibly why.  

Error One:  Treating Inferences as Facts

Fact: A statement or claim that can be objectively verified or proven. Examples include "The date is March 7, 2011", "Barack Obama is the President of the United States of America", and "LisaMarie Luccioni needs morning expresso to function."

Inference: Your observation plus your conclusion. Inferences are inevitable. Our problem arises when we treat inferences as automatic fact. Be careful. Your inference can be your error.

Examples:

• You see a poorly dressed customer walk into your store and conclude they don't have money to spend.

• You see a woman with a fuller figure wearing a billowing blouse. You congratulate her on her upcoming pregnancy.

• You see a college student normally attired in jeans enter the room sporting a business suit. You assume they had a job interview.

• You hear a voice over the fast-food intercom.  You say "Thank you, Sir" at order completion. You drive up and painfully learn that voice belonged to a woman.

• You hear the word "nurse" or "dancer" and immediately decode this as "female". Conversely, you hear "construction worker" or "engineer" and decode "male".

• You see two people standing together at a social situation. You believe they are a couple.

Solution: It's human to make inferences. Just don't automatically give them fact status.

Error Two:  Polarized Thinking

Polarization is the human tendency to view the world in extremes and categorize people, objects, and events in terms of these polar opposites.  It's either-or/black-white reasoning.  

Complete the chart below, (1) giving bipolar-opposite adjectives in the right-hand column and (2) then completing mid-section with words that fall between.  Here's an example:

Adjective:                                                     Bipolar Adjective:

Strong         _____ _____ _____ _____ _____  Weak
Light           _____ _____ _____ _____ _____   _____
Happy         _____ _____ _____ _____ _____   _____
Right          _____ _____ _____ _____ _____    _____
Liberal        _____ _____ _____ _____ _____    _____
Introverted   _____ _____ _____ _____ _____    _____

Most people quickly scrawl the bipolar opposite: strong/weak, light/dark, happy/sad, right/wrong, liberal/conservative, introverted/extraverted, good/bad. They list them lightning fast: boom, boom, boom.

When forced to brainstorm adjectives for the middle expanse, however, pens pause and facial expressions become perplexed. Most people write "average" and then-to show variety in word choice-move to "medium" and "moderate". It's a challenge to complete this middle area, those shades of gray between bipolar opposites.

• "Either I'm perfect or I'm nothing."

• "Either she's with us or against us."

• "Either we pass this legislation or the country will explode."

• "Either you come with me to my mother's house, or you don't love me." (my personal favorite)

No, Baby, I love you. I just have other plans this weekend.

Solution: Be alert to polarized wording, framing, and thinking, especially when processing political arguments and debate.

Error Three:  Applying Intensional Orientation

Intensional Orientation: Viewing people, objects, and events in terms of labels rather than how they actually exist or operate. The problem is that many people never get past the labels.

• "It's a woman."
• "It's a man."
• "It's an American."
• "It's a Muslim."
• "It's a soldier."
• "It's an environmentalist."

I'll shame-faced cop to a personal example: 

I recently visited an art museum and viewed a painting I declared "ugly". I then noticed the attributed artist. His name was "Picasso".  "THE" Picasso.  My perception immediately changed from "ugly" to "masterpiece".

Extensional Orientation: Viewing people, objects, and events by their actual existence or operation and then (if then) through their labels.

I'll proudly boast to this standard academic grading practice.  Evaluators everywhere?  Consider implementation.

When students submit essays, I request cover sheets be stapled to the BACK of papers. All teachers should adopt this practice to maintain objectivity. If I see student name "Ric Sweeney" on page 1, I'm perhaps biased until the end at page 10.

My reasoning works like this: "Ric has received two A's on both my tests. He speaks frequently in class and was the team leader for his group's discussion." I may then grant a higher grade based on past performance and not his current submission.  

Solution: React to the current merits of work. If you're label-influenced, your perception may be skewed.

© 2011 The Image Establishment, All Rights Reserved

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About the Author

LisaMarie Luccioni, MA, AICI, CIP

LisaMarie Luccioni is an adjunct professor of Communication at the University of Cincinnati, a business etiquette expert, and one of 100 Certified Image Professionals in the United States

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