The Atticus Finch Fallacy

maximize your wiring Dec 11, 2020
Pair of old shoes

Perception Deception and how epic listening can be more powerful than knowing

"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view....until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." 

- Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird

The problem with the oft quoted Atticus Finch maxim about being open to what other people are going through is that you can never actually experience anything from someone else's perspective – no matter how well intentioned or aware of others you might be. 

All of our perceptions are colored by our own values, beliefs, biases, and experiences. True empathy – what I think Atticus was trying to instill in his kids - means acknowledging someone else’s experience as unique to them. Even our desire to share and support someone else’s feelings of joy, frustration or sadness are colored by your own perceptions.

Our brains are biologically wired to interpret pretty much everything through the lens of our own experience. 

The way our brain learns to filter and make sense of things – from early childhood, through school, first job and the roller coaster of life - becomes colored by the values, experiences, and biases we attached to that data as we form the mental maps that make us who we are.

My friends at Chapman & Co call it Perception Deception:  the human tendency to fail to acknowledge our own lens behave as if what we see is fact. 

The encouraging news here (especially for those of us involved helping people learn more, better and different ways to engage with people) is that Perception Deception is not a fixed state. Our brains actually get more active when taking other people’s perspectives into account.  And, this key emotional intelligence skill (empathy) can be built and improved with awareness and practice. 

The skill of epic listening inoculates against perception deception, leaders to more empathy and builds emotional intelligence. Listening is more powerful than knowing and can transform what we think we know.

One tool to guard against (or even correct for missteps in) Perception Deception is intentional, practiced listening. Epic Listening means fully listening to the other person. You’re completely tuned in and picking up on not only what they’re saying, but how they might be feeling via their nonverbal cues. This type of listening produces emotional responses in both you and the person you are talking with. It’s about “clearing the white board” in your brain so you can process what the other person is trying to say without connecting dots to what you think (or wish?) they are saying. 

It takes practice! And the more practice, the more likely we are to understand - rather than just confirm what's going on in our own heads.  There is even brain science that backs this up (Zaki, et al, 2009 for my fellow neuro-nerds). Our brains require many different cognitive pathways to accurately read the emotions of others. We pull from both internal knowledge and an empathetic sharing. Knowledge, plus interpretation, plus deep, complete, empathetic listening!

Acknowledging that our perceptions color everything we think we know, combined with increased efforts in empathetic listening can help us be better leaders, partners and friends.

Want to explore the ways you can lead from wherever you are?  Schedule a free, 30-minute spark session and let's talk about how to turn your strengths into superpowers!

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