“Trusting” the Expert

In its Smarter Living section on April 29, 2018, the New York Times posted an interesting article about how our unconscious biases can play tricks on us when it comes to experts.

In an article entitled How Your Brain Can Trick You Into Trusting People, Tim Herrera discusses the shortcuts our brains take in everyday life to reach conclusion so that we can get through the day, otherwise known as unconscious biases. As an example, the author notes that if we enter a subway car that is empty, we may unconsciously draw the conclusion that there is a reason for this and so, we will move to the next car which is more crowded. (Id.)

And, our brains are imbedded with unconscious biases on a cultural level as well. Again, like all unconscious biases, these may lead us to make misassumptions and wrong conclusions.

The thesis of the article though is about “proxies of expertise”;

… the traits and habits we associate, and often conflate, with expertise. That means qualities such as confidence, extroversion and how much someone talks can outweigh demonstrated knowledge when analyzing whether a person is an expert. (Id.)

In short, we will tend to trust someone “…simply because they sound as if they know what they’re talking about.” (Id.) (Emphasis original) Simply because the person talking is an extrovert who is doing most of the talking, this does not mean that she truly is an expert. Rather than getting caught up in this unconscious bias, be aware of it, step back and

…ask yourself whether they are truly trustworthy? Do they have the credentials to back up their claims? Do they talk their way around specific questions rather than address them head-on? (Khalil calls this strategy ‘if-the plans’: If you catch yourself gravitating toward someone extroverted and loud, then seek another opinion.) (Id.) And… don’t be afraid to use a third person as a sounding board by asking if you are misplacing your trust in this ‘expert’. (Id.)

When Ronald Reagan was president, he often commented that we should “trust but verify”. This is another way of overcoming the proxies of expertise.

Applying this article along with President Reagan’s comment to resolving disputes is simple: just because your opposing party is an extrovert and sounds like she knows what she is talking about, does not mean that she is, indeed, an expert or indeed, really does know the subject matter. Before taking her word for it, verify what she is saying by seeking outside confirmation. She who speaks loudest and most often may, in fact, be inaccurate if not wrong and may end up doing you more harm than good!

…. Just something to think about.

                        author

Phyllis Pollack

Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as… MORE >

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