Assumptions and biases in the online world

Assumptions and biases are inevitable to us humans. That’s what makes decision making so efficient whilst negotiating the multiple and conflicting expectations as we go by our daily lives. We sense, feel and live the world each day through our assumptions and biases.

But how well do our assumptions and biases serve us when we move from meeting people in person to the virtual, online world? Learning to trust others in an online setting has become the new reality in our fast paced societies. But can we really trust people who we have only just met on computer screens or heard them on speakers and speakerphones? Would it be fair to assume that our suspicions about others will only increase in a virtual world and revealing ourselves to those who we have never met in person will always remain a challenge?

Our recent experiences with the iCue coaching series suggests otherwise.

We are beginning to see how people develop trust, share their deeply personal stories, cherish the time spent together online and form long lasting relationships. Interestingly, all this happens over the period of 9 weeks during which participants meet for just 1 hour every week. One of the participants described this experience as being “all about your predisposition: be willing to let go of your fears and open to be peeled like an onion”.

One personal example was my own relationship with Rob Long, to whom I am ever thankful for his endless and unconditional generosity, and for welcoming me into the Social Psychology of Risk (SPoR) community. Through our online interactions I began to see Dr Rob Long as someone with a depth of wisdom and a world leading thinker in risk management. But over the next few weeks, I started to form an opinion that Rob was deeply angry at the world. With those assumptions, my relationship with Rob became less and less interesting and would certainly have faded in time. Period.

But all this took a dramatic turn when we finally had the opportunity to meet Rob in person while in India, which I will remember and cherish forever. It only took a “hello” for radically different assumptions to surface. At once, the friendly vibes and warmth of this person become apparent. How is this possible? What was preventing me from picking these vibes during our online conversations? How could my perception of Rob change so soon and so radically?

Whatever the answers, what I took away was that such transformational experiences are no different from how we perceive risk and make decisions in our daily lives. Often, we assume too many things too quickly, whilst completely overlooking the fact that we may well be in an unusual environment that changes how people resonate with us (like in the online world?). For example, we feel threatened and anxious simply because someone smiles at us or looks at us with a raised brow. Assumptions and biases rule our lives.

Learning to meet with others, listening and observing to their gestures and language, and feeling their presence – online or in-person – without judging them enables us to surface the assumptions that are influencing our perceptions and decisions.

In everything we do, the quality of our decisions is only as good as our ability to surface our assumptions and understand others before we expect to be understood. This is the unique strength of the iCue method. It is visual, verbal, and relational i.e., you can see your assumptions and biases on a whiteboard simply by mapping a conversation. I come back to what Nippin always shares with us. You cannot organise me and I cannot be part of your organisation if we don’t take the time to understand each other.



Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.