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Let’s play “name that bias”

My sister has twin 4-year old kids, a boy, and a girl. Both have autism and are on different points of the ASD spectrum.

I was having lunch with them on Sunday, for Fathers Day, and I noticed something interesting.

Our waitress happened to mention that her two-year-old son doesn’t like loud noise.

My sister immediately spoke up, “Oh, you should have him checked, my son didn’t like loud noises, and we found out he has autism.”

Later, someone else mentioned that her young daughter has difficulty sleeping through the night. Again, my sister spoke up, “Oh, our little girl has a tough time with that too. You should get her checked for autism.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this, but it was the first time I noticed it.

I don’t know what to call it, so I’m using the phrase experience bias.

A working definition for experience bias might be, “a bias toward noticing situations which appear similar to our past experiences which contain strong emotional content.”

The observable behavior isn’t her noticing, but her “suggestions” to others. But that wouldn’t happen unless she picked-up on something. For example, I heard the same conversation but didn’t pick up on the same things.

I suppose the tendency (or compulsion!) to offer unprompted advice to others also has a name, but I’m not sure what it is. Maybe “the consultant’s curse”? I’ve suffered from that myself. <grin>

When we have an experience which contains strong emotions, our attention seems tuned toward similar circumstances around us.

This could be having a child with autism, going on a long-anticipated vacation, getting in a car accident, or even getting a well-deserved promotion.

There are at least two lessons here – probably more.

First, notice what you’re tuned-in to; what you’re noticing these days. For me, I’m noticing people talking about publishing a book, installing watering systems, and dealing with gout.

Yah, I know it’s weird. But these are three things I’m likely to comment on (and even give advice about) if they get brought up.

Noticing what you’re noticing is essential because it allows you to avoid the consultant’s curse.

It allows you to a pause and ask a question, such as “Would you like to hear about my experience?”, or maybe you’ll decide to remain quiet rather than rushing headlong to give advice.

Second, when you see others offering advice, you have a clue about what’s happening in them. Their experience bias might be reminding the current situation of an emotionally important event in their past. Or maybe something they are dealing with right now.

Either way, it’s an interesting way to understand people around you better.

Do you see this happening around you?

What do you make of it?

Write me back…


P.S. – If you know the ‘official’ name of this bias, would you send it to me?  🙂

About Marcus Blankenship

Where other technical coaches focus on process or tools, I focus on the human aspects of your Programmer to Manager transition. I help you hire the right people, create the right culture, and setup the right process which achieves your goals. Managing your team isn't something you learned in college. In fact, my clients often tell me "I never prepared for this role, I always focused on doing the work". If you're ready to improve your leadership, process and team, find out how I can help you.

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