We really don’t know what we think we know!


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The Johari Window is an interesting thought perspective. Developed by two psychologists, Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham (hence Johari, get it? Joe and Harri?), it plots a two-by-two grid of known or unknown information, and to ourselves and to others. Hence there will be information that is known to us and known to others, and this is called public information; information that is known to us but unknown to others, called private information; information that is known to others but unknown by ourselves, known as our blind spots; and finally, information that is unknown either to ourselves and to others. Obviously the more dangerous types of information are those that are unknown to ourselves.

But there are several other perspectives. In the known-to-self column, we assume that what we know is right. Yet, there are many instances when what we know is actually incorrect. We actually don’t know what we think we know, and these are called cognitive biases. Under the influence of these biases, we act as though we know what is going on, but in fact we don’t really know. Here are 3 examples to be aware of:

1. The Confirmation Bias

Here, a person is so caught up by his own worldview that he sees positives within an ocean of negatives. In fact, some of them are so good at it that they can string a whole host of negative information and turn them into a positive viewpoint. Some may call them delusional, yet others see them as optimistic. But when your decisions are based on unfounded optimism, you might well get caught up in a major upheaval.

2. The Halo Effect

Some people can do no right, and others can do no wrong. When a person comes with an impressive resume, or has privileged pedigree, he may be accorded way too much courtesy, and even when it is obvious to others that he is going down a disastrous path, nothing will happen to him. He is shrouded by the halo effect. When you are in awe of someone, you might think you know the person, when in actual fact, you don’t.

3. The Barnum Effect

The name of this effect comes from P T Barnum, who ran a circus. He was a showman and trickster, what one might call a “snakeoil salesman” – someone who promotes hoaxes. He does that by using equivocal language that seems specifically tailored for the listener but in actual fact, is so vague that it can apply to everyone in general. Yet, when you don’t know what you think you know, you would be taken in by the Barnum effect, which is exacerbated by the halo effect, and you make a disastrous decision.

There are many more biases. Suffice it to say that we need to be aware of such perspectives, and pay special attention to how we think, lest we lead ourselves down a slippery path. In times of doubt, always remember that we really don’t know what we think we know.

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