Reflecting on events from a distanced viewpoint produces better, wiser decisions, says our talent doctor Rob Yeung, plus what makes the perfect public speaker
This article was first published in the October 2016 international edition of Accounting and Business magazine.
Imagine you are working in a boring, but secure job. You go for a job interview and are offered a position that could be exciting. But you’re not sure you have all the skills to succeed in the role. Should you stay where you are or take the riskier option?
Some decisions matter more than most and the good news is that studies suggest there’s at least one way of making better, wiser decisions.
Research psychologists at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in the US invited job hunters to ‘take a few minutes to think about how the current economic climate will impact you personally’.
The researchers then split the participants into two groups, giving each different, additional instructions. One group was asked to adopt what is known as an immersive viewpoint: ‘Imagine the events unfolding before your own eyes as if you were right there.’ The other was instructed to take a broader, distanced viewpoint: ‘Imagine the events unfolding as if you were a distant observer.’
Participants were then interviewed and asked to reason aloud their thinking and the transcripts of their responses were then evaluated by two experts.
When the results were analysed, the researchers found that participants who had been told to reason from the distanced perspective had done so significantly more wisely. For example, they were more likely to have recognised the limits of their knowledge. They were also more likely to have acknowledged that the future was prone to change.
Follow-up studies have found further benefits for distanced decision-making. Notably, people who adopt it also tend to be more open to alternative viewpoints. In contrast, people who hold an immersive viewpoint tend to be more resistant to new information.
The implication is clear. When weighing up issues and options, take a more distanced perspective. Rather than thinking about how circumstances might affect you personally, pretend that you are advising a friend or colleague.
Consider looking back on past events from this perspective too. Studies have shown that people who reflect on past events – particularly mistakes and failures – from an immersive perspective tend to experience more negative feelings. Reflecting from the distanced perspective allows them to be less emotional and more likely to identify lessons they can apply in the future.
To summarise: when it comes to reasoning about the future or reflecting on the past, imagine that you are considering the consequences or lessons for someone else. Pretend you are an out-of-body observer of the situation. Do so and you may exercise better judgment.
Dr Rob Yeung is an organisational psychologist and coach at consultancy Talentspace