Thursday, September 29, 2011

Do we like each other? Certainty in less than a blink...

Certainty Part 2: Influencers of certainty in decision making
Got a few minutes to give me a quick impression? Never mind. You don't need that much time. With emotional decision making, you need only a spare 100 milliseconds to do the deed. And guess what? It's the same for the other person.

100 milliseconds?!? Really... Yep. Really.

In the first post in the series about certainty and decision making, we looked at our mind's need for certainty. Yesterday I published an "afternoon snack" with some interesting stats about first impressions. My friend Jack on Facebook mentioned in response to it that once you know just how fast impressions are made, it's grounds for taking a look at your entire life and how you interact with others. I couldn't agree with him more which is what this post, in part, is about - understanding what influences your certainty.

Power of filters
Although we're diving into what influences certainty when we make decisions, do keep in mind this subject is broad and deep so we're just going to have a taste of what is a very complex phenomenon.

Quick decision making explained

I know it's hard to see the text in the PPT I whipped up, but here's the gist:
  • Collect. We take in information from a variety of source: eyes, nose, mouth, skin, neural networks, chemical changes in our bodies, etc. 
  • Filter. Somehow we have to make sense of the machine gun pace of info bombarding us so we use our filters. Filters allow our brains to quickly match what we're experiencing against what we already know. Your garden variety filters include the following: experience, beliefs, family, values, religion, ethnicity, culture, etc.
  • Respond. Once a match is made between the new info and what you already know, then out pops a response. This response is consciously and sometimes unconsciously tied to thoughts and feelings.
Now, here's the rub. Because we use filters to sort and prep a response (the scientific name for this is cognitive compression for those of you who might care), the other person is doing the same thing. What does this mean to both of you? Because your respective experiences may be different, you might not immediately (or ever in some cases) be on the same page.

So what's a person to do???
You may THINK you know the person, but it doesn't necessarily mean you really do. The same goes for what they are saying - you may THINK you know what they're saying but really don't. The mind is constantly on alert to synch up what it's experiencing with what it already knows. This is why when you've only gotten maybe halfway through your sentence the other person jumps on it with, "Oh, I know EXACTLY what you mean." Well, maybe they do and maybe they don't.

Because of our low tolerance for ambiguity and because we tend to be pretty committed to our past experiences and decisions, certainty floods our minds and prompts us to REACT quickly with a response. What's the risk for you (and possibly the person on the receiving end)? You're wrong. 

Multi-source your certainty
Courtesy of
Typically in emotional decision making your amygdala, or what my son calls "the feeling brain," kicks in first. This is the seat of emotions and memories. So when someone says something and you feel a rush, just pause for a sec. Your rational brain (cortex) needs some catch up time because it tends to lag about a second behind your feeling brain. This gives your mind some additional support before committing to a decision. 

Think about it. Would you buy a car, propose marriage, take a job, or make a financial decision based on a single source of information? Of course not. So what's an extra second in time to let your rational brain partner with your feeling brain? Think of it like a checks and balances system where they team up to give you the best option so you can ACT and not REACT

Assumptions testing
So the next time he doesn't call when he said he would, the email doesn't arrive from your best friend as expected, or she has a distant look in her eyes, give your response a second and don't make your first assumption your conclusion. Maybe he's extremely busy with meetings and couldn't break away. Perhaps your friend lost Internet access. Suppose she's just been deep in thought about her current project.

How do you gut check your certainty?

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