Leaders Know Logical Fallacies Can Hurt Team Decisions (Part 3)

In my work with teams who make decisions together about tactics, strategy, and personnel, logical fallacies and cognitive biases show up, so I’m going to write a few posts about some of the most common. This is the third post in this series. You can find links to the first two posts at the bottom of this one.

Fallacy: Ad Hominem

Definition: Dismissing an idea or assertion because of the source’s character.

Simple Example: Bob, a slacker at work, proposes a new system. No one takes him seriously.

What it looks like at work: The exec committee is reviewing bids for a new Point of Sale system, and Bob suggests they reject all the bids and make a small tweak to the existing system, saving about $78,000 over the next few years.

Bob has a history of delivering sub-par work, and Kristi has often had to take steps to refine some of his output. Kristi has an automatic thought after Bob’s suggestion:

Bob is lazy, so of course he doesn’t want to look at the bids. His idea must not have merit.”

After the thought, Kristi says, “Well, the bids come from professionals. Let’s stick with reviewing those.”

Alec and Lorenza nod in agreement; they don’t take Bob seriously either.

At no point does anyone suggest they take an objective look at Bob’s idea to consider it fully.

What it looks like on the news (This is a more striking, frequent, and easily understood version of Ad Hominem): Donald Trump proposes a policy. Instead of fully vetting the idea or discussing it on the merits, the political opponents of President Trump immediately dismiss the idea because it must be a part of the Republican Party agenda.

The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passes a couple hundred bills. Instead of debating them, the Republican-controlled Senate ignores them, pointing out that they’re part of the Democratic Party agenda.

I’m not trying to get you riled up; I’m using an obvious example to help point out that at work, it’s more subtle, but it’s the same thing.

What to do?

Ask more questions, and protect each other.

Notice your own tendency to disregard the ideas of certain people, then push yourself to be curious about those ideas and ask more questions about it. “Tell me more…,” “How do you see that working?”

Notice the tendency of others to disregard the words of others, and find subtle ways to advocate for them. “Wait, I’d like to hear Bob out.” “I wonder why we haven’t thought of that? Let’s take a moment to think about it.”

What examples do you have?

Thanks for reading,

Alan Feirer

For more in this series:

Post #1: The Slippery Slope
Post #2: The False Cause

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