When objectivity is a trap

Posted by on Sep 22, 2011 in Emotion & cognition | 0 comments

While the advantages of objectivity are well known and irrefutable, it’s important to consider that intuition has an important role to play at work, and respect for intuition is very important if you want to build relationships with non-mechanical people. In fact, an absolute adherence to objectivity can hurt your effectiveness in the workplace.

For those of us who love things to be objectively verifiable, sometimes we need to be reminded that things aren’t black and white. If objectivity is good, it doesn’t make intuition bad. Nor does it make objectivity always good. This post explores the idea that there are some things that objectivity can’t help with, and zealously clinging to it can actually do you a disservice. It can be a trap.

Let’s look at some very career-limiting aspects of over-attachment to objectivity.

Arrogance/Lack of empathy

Say know what’s right, and you know the right way to go about knowing what’s right.  And say you work with someone who knows differently, and goes about knowing differently … then in all your interactions with her, you will operate from the subtext that she is wrong.

You are right. She is wrong.

And if the unspoken, unshakable assumption that she is wrong is lurking in the back of your mind, it will show in your voice and your face.  Because, chances are, you are a human and not a robot.  And humans (and other primates) are always giving off cues about what they really think and feel. Unless you are a psychopath, you really can’t escape this, no matter how much you wish you could.

So she will very likely detect your underlying attitude that you think she is wrong.  And, since no one likes to be wrong, she won’t like you.

  • You will come off as arrogant, uncooperative, and a waste of time to talk to.
  • You will have made it exponentially more difficult for her to hear your fact-based evidence.
  • You’ll walk away thinking what an idiot she is, without realizing that your arrogance contributed to her inability to participate in your objectivity.
  • You still get to be right, but you and your facts will be further alienated from the mainstream of decisions making.
  • You’ll end up grumbling on the sidelines about how people should be more objective.

Analysis Paralysis/Lack of urgency

One of the biggest complaints that intuitive types have about analytical types is that they get caught in Analysis Paralysis. This is a very ugly label that I personally hate.  Because as much as I defend an appropriate use of intuition, I would not want to live in a world of instinct unchecked by facts.

But it’s also true that the evidence-gathering phase can sometimes take too long, be overly broad, get snagged on seemingly irrelevant facts, and lack evaluative urgency. I think that this term, “Analysis Paralysis” is less about impatience with facts and more about impatience.

One of the beautiful things about intuition is … it’s how you know what’s important.  It’s how you sift through the infinite – and I mean infinite – possible things to consider in any decision.

If you come at a decision as if all options are equal, is will take you a lot longer than if you weed out obviously innapporiate options, using your or your colleagues’ intution to determine what is obvious.  If you don’t filter and focus, you’ll drive intuitive-types crazy, because they are making judgement calls about relevance and can’t figure out why you aren’t making them.

  • You come off as frittering away time on things that are obviously unimportant.
  • You come off as not getting the point, not caring about the need to act.
  • You come off as more invested in checking things off an arbitrary list than in getting something done.
  • Your attachment to a process of objective verifiability will make you seem like an obstacle to forward movement.

If you solicit your intuitive colleague’s sense of what is important, and share with her your own (intuitive) sense of what’s important, you can structure an evaluation phase to reflect the urgency your colleague feels. You we seem an engine of good decision-making, not a roadblock.
Questionable commitment/Lack of enthusiasm

The issue of questionable commitment might be the most under-appreciated, unexamined pitfall of being too attached to objectivity.  And if you aren’t in touch with your emotions, you might have no clue about its corrosive effects.  You see, when people work together toward a similar goal, they want to know that their teammates are committed to the results and to each other.

And commitment is, fundamentally, emotional. It expresses itself in language that is primarily about volition.  “I want to see this through.”  “I’m eager to get to work.” “I’m excited by the challenge.”  There’s nothing logical about wanting.  I might be logical about what I want, but that I want is a passion-based phenomenon.

Expressing commitment allows humans to bear witness to the fact that we want the same thing, we are in this together. When a goal is articulated and agreed on, expressing positive emotion about that goal is an essential ingredient for teamwork. It helps see you through the tough times, the tricky obstacles.

Like marriage is (supposed to be) an expression of love and commitment. I say … I want to be with you.  I am committed to being with you.  So that if you get cancer or gain 20 pounds I won’t leave you for a healthier, svelter option. Even though, in maximizing my happiness, it might make logical sense to do so.

If you are overly attached to objectivity, you might underestimate the importance of expressing commitment to a decision.

If you  avoid showing emotional attachment to the outcome of a decision, your more intuitive colleagues won’t trust you. Nor should they.  Because if you are committed to an outcome dictated by solely by objectivity, and an assumption or a parameter of the equation gets tweaked, it will change the logical outcome, and, therefore your commitment.

And, just as important (even if it seems frivolous) non-mechanical people have more fun when working with people who show enthusiasm.  It creates a social bond, which simply feels good.  And good feelings fuel action.

If you don’t value good feeling and social bonding because you are overly-attached to a world view in which everything that matters is provable and testable, you’ll be left out.  (Well, actually, you’ll be able to bond with other people who agree with you, but then you’ll be isolated as a group and wonder why no one listens to you.)

The Myth Underneath it All

The sad irony that I see in people who are overly attached to objectivity is … they seem to willfully and emotionally reject the objective reality that emotions exist and they matter.

There is it is.  Staring them in the face. Emotions exist.  Emotions matter.

And it’s sad, because they desperately want emotions not to exist and not to matter and not to cloud their beautiful measurable world.  And they get so upset by the people who abuse emotions that that they’re blind to the important and appropriate use of them. They diminish their power in a social world and create fantasies about living in a mechanistic one.

My hope is that our work at Leading Geeks can make it seem reasonable to become adept at navigating emotions and intuition.  That we can provide rational approaches to emotional issues.  So that we all can have more access to influential and productive relationships with emotional people.

For more information about how you can leverage geeks to get the technology you want, contact info@leadinggeeks.com or call 310-694-0450.

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