It has long been asserted that people make up their minds about people they meet for the first time within seconds.
According to Malcolm Gladwell, in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, decisions may occur much faster – thinking instantaneously or in two seconds. His findings have serious implications in business-to-business engagement situations. According to Gladwell’s research, we think without thinking, we thin-slice whenever we “meet a new person or have to make sense of something quickly or encounter a novel situation.” He says, “Snap judgments are, first of all, enormously quick: they rely on the thinnest slices of experience … they are also unconscious.”
“We thin-slice because we have to, and we come to rely on that ability because there are lots of hidden things out there, lots of situations where careful attention to the details of a very thin slice, even for no more than a second or two, can tell us an awful lot.” Whenever we have to make sense of complicated situations or deal with lots of information quickly, we bring to bear all of our beliefs, attitudes, values, experiences, education and more on the situation. Then, we thin-slice the situation to comprehend it quickly. The implications of this concept have astonishing significance for our personal reactions to most situations. It seems that this ability to think without thinking, to make snap decisions about situations and people in a “blink”, has significant implications for how we interact with clients. It is a critical consideration with how we view ourselves and our ability to interact with people who are different from ourselves. It can impact our business relationship building. We make decisions in a “blink” about situations and people, unconsciously, that bring into play all of our biases.
Gladwell participated in an experiment to test whether he would respond more positively to images of people of color with positive or negative words describing them. Of course, as most of us would, he predicted there would be no difference in the time it took him to assign positive and negative words to the pictures of people. He was wrong. The test results indicated subtle preferences. Gladwell was particularly struck by the results of this test as his mother is Jamaican and he would have expected himself to be more color blind. He cites similar results of tests assigning gender-biased words such as “entrepreneur or homemaker”, with male and female connotations in our culture, to pictures of males and females.
The take away from Gladwell’s Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking is the necessity for each of us to be aware of and control our thin-slicing. Any decisions that we make based on our thin-slicing must be accompanied by the recognition that we do make important decisions using this process – unconsciously.
Taking the time to gather and consider client background information before going with our initial gut, knee-jerk reaction is key.While we may be right, we can be wrong but we don’t need to be right. It is just our ego that does. There is the constant opportunity to unconsciously discriminate, draw conclusions or distrust for all of the reasons we can justify in our minds. We are challenged to work with people who are not just like us. However, after we notice the differences (blink), we need to constantly demonstrate that we honor and appreciate the differences.
At the same time, Gladwell tells us not to endlessly develop more and more information. Sometimes, we need to trust the “blink”, the thin-slice decisions that we make. He gives, as one example, the story of the Getty Museum buying an ancient Greek kouros which turned out to be a more modern forgery. Many outside experts were consulted and scientists tested the material of the kouros for authenticity. The outside expert information pointed to an authentic statue.
Others, more involved in the art and collectibles industry, had reservations about the ten million dollar kouros. One expert cited the kouros as looking too fresh. Another objected saying, “You haven’t purchased this yet, have you.” They “thin-sliced” their view of the kouros and found “something” not right.
Gladwell encourages us to cultivate our ability to thin-slice by spending time with people who are not just like us.
Although, this is conceptually sound advice, our snap judgments are still potentially biassed by our natural departure point in most situations being from “something’s wrong”, psychologically. When we do take a stand to honor and appreciate people’s differences, we need to create a new context. Our natural ingrained resistance (ego) closes the possibility to function as if “nothing’s wrong” with interacting with people who are not like us. However, by coming from this context of and actually being “nothing’s wrong”, we open ourselves to having no preconceived ideas and judgmental notions and open to a whole new spectrum possibilities and opportunities irrespective of the anticipated outcome.