Many people quite naturally believe they are good ‘intuitive psychologists’, thinking it is relatively easy to predict other people’s attitudes and behaviours. We each have information built up from countless previous experiences involving both ourselves and others so surely we should have solid insights?
In reality people show a number of predictable biases when estimating other people’s behaviour and its causes. And these biases tend to be incorrect in showing that we can rely on our intuitions about the behaviour of others.
One of these biases is called the false consensus effect. In the 1970s Stanford University social psychologist Professor Lee Ross set out to show just how the false consensus effect operates in two neat studies (Ross, Greene & House, 1977).
In the first study participants were asked to read about situations in which a conflict occurred and then told two alternative ways of responding. They were asked to do three things:
- Guess which option other people would choose,
- Say which option they would choose,
- Describe the attributes of the person who would choose each of the two options.
The results showed more people thought others would do the same as them, regardless of which of the two responses they actually chose themselves. This shows what Ross and colleagues dubbed the ‘false consensus’ effect – the idea that we each think other people think the same way we do when actually they often don’t.
Another bias emerged when participants were asked to describe the attributes of the person who made the opposite choice to their own. Compared to other people who made the same choice they did, people made more extreme predictions about the personalities of those who made didn’t share their choice. People tend to assume that those who don’t agree with them have something wrong with them!
It is critical to be aware of these biases in a client sales engagement. Sales consultants are often guilty of guessing instead of questioning. Mahan Khalsa in his book, Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play, describes why sales consultants assume or guess instead of probing for clarity. These challenges include the fear of seeming mis-informed or ignorant by asking. In realty, questioning with the intent of gaining clarity is viewed as genuine curiosity and sincerity. Also, sales consultants don’t ask certain questions because they have already assumed the answer. A further challenge is the lack of planning before engaging with the client and then the hesitation to re-engage on the questions that have been missed.
The degree of our awareness of our psychological false consensus bias and not guessing through complete probing is in direct proportion to the probability of our finding the exact solution for our clients.