Here’s a simple, but not simplistic, practice you can start building into your daily activities. Whenever you engage in a conversation aimed at clarifying or making a decision, ask - at the appropriate moments:
When you ask about other options, you’re going beyond what is currently being considered. Group dynamics often make what’s on the table appear as if it’s the only possibility. But it rarely is. The group is most comfortable with that belief, though, and once an option is chosen, unlikely to consider anything else.
Asking about what we are not seeing or saying prompts you to consider whether you’re basing your judgments on the best available information. Are we sufficiently well- informed to make the decision? Or is there information we should have, or would like to have, that would significantly increase the quality of our understanding? If that information can be defined, how can we get access to it?
Keep repeating the questions until you feel they’ve been answered sufficiently, and don’t accept automatic responses (although that’s what you might get from your counterparts who aren’t comfortable with the practice). You are likely to break through the mental barriers of group think and explore new territory with these two simple, yet extraordinary, questions.
Harness them, ask them repeatedly, and integrate them into your leadership toolbox. They might just save you from falling victim to your mental models.
The way we look and think about the world is based on what psychologists call our mental model. It’s the collective set of beliefs and assumptions that we make about reality and how it works (e.g. your industry, your customers’ preferences, your uniqueness, etc). This powerful belief system helps us quickly make sense of situations, simplifying what is inherently complex.
But the system also works against us, because it dislikes information that doesn’t fit. This information leads to what psychologists call cognitive dissonance, a state of confusion that we prefer to avoid. To evade that uncomfortable state, we simply dismiss the information—and in turn potentially limit our options and make the wrong decisions.