Constructive, efficient debate among executives has never been more necessary. Globalization and the emergence of a multi-polar world is introducing new competition and requiring companies to operate in completely different ways. Merger and acquisition activity is at a peak, with more and more deals crossing borders and spanning diverse corporate cultures. Management teams face the challenges of gathering and synthesizing more information from more varied sources, using it to reach defensible decisions--and doing it all faster than ever.
Given these challenges, it would be comforting to believe that decision-making within senior teams is informed by high quality information, rigorous logic and careful consideration of the full range of relevant inputs. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. The reality is that in truly high-stakes situations, when the leaders of corporations are asked to make difficult choices about alternative courses of action, their decisions are frequently based on partial information and influenced by simplistic and untested attributions about the competence and motives of those proposing different courses of action. The explanation lies in our blind spots. We are highly biased by our own perspectives of a situation and miss essential information about what others are thinking and feeling, and how our actions are perceived by them.
To illustrate: In any interaction, I can see what I am up against, what I am trying to do, how others and their actions appear to me, and what effect they are having on me. But I cannot see what others are up against, what they're trying to do, how I appear to them and what effect I'm having on them. As a result, each, of us has only half of the information needed to understand both sides.
The most dangerous feature of our blind spots is that we are not aware of them. Instead of recognizing gaps, we fill them with our own assumptions and beliefs. This happens so naturally that we regard these assumptions as self-evident facts. As a result, we often do not see the need to explain our reasoning or test its validity.
The problem is that many assumptions turn out to be wrong. What's more, the circumstances in which we are least likely to examine the validity of our assumptions occur when we have the greatest need for accurate information: when we feel under pressure. In challenging situations, when people propose courses of...