The interesting thing about the cognitive bias called the False consensus effect, is that even though I know that I’m biased towards my own opinions, I still think I am not. “Everyone else is biased, but I’m not,” I say.
We all know that our opinion is just one opinion in a sea of opinions, but we still assume that our opinion is as common as the stars in the night sky.
This causes another bias to creep into our thinking and judgment. If we assume the commonness of our own opinions, experiences, and judgments, then it must mean that everyone else is thinking and experiencing the same thing. Thus, we can assume we know what they are thinking or feeling.
Which isn’t true. We have no idea!
In cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), it’s also called Mind-reading error – where we assume we know what other people are thinking or feeling.
Stop Assuming Other People Think Like You – It’s a Cognitive Bias
One of the first times I realized about the cognitive bias that people think differently from each other was when I saw how people view a glass of water as half-empty (pessimist) or half-full (optimist).
It was fascinating to me, that people could be looking at the same thing, and see completely different things.
I also read that people have different colour rods in their eyes, and that means, that if you are looking at a blue dress, and I am looking at a blue dress, we are both seeing a different shade of blue!!! We even see colour differently!!
Mind-blowing. Not only that, but it also gives us a lot of food for thought.
What does this mean for humans, when we are having a conversation or trying to negotiate a deal or run a country filled with diverse opinions, thoughts, and experiences?
Every single person on this planet is going to look at the same issue, in 7.8 billion different ways. That’s what is the fascinating thing about being a human on this diverse, multicultural, and multi-lingual planet right now.
You cannot believe even for a second that other people think like you.
Not only do people differ in their genetic structures, but also life experiences, and their physical bodies, and so much more. There are so many things differentiating us from the person sitting next to us.
Even twins, who might have grown up in an identical environment and have identical DNA, will end up with differing views and opinions. What chance do we have when we don’t even share DNA or life experiences of seeing eye-to-eye?
Most Fights or Arguments Occur When We Refuse to See This Truth
As I venture through the world, I realize that most of my fights, with my parents, with my colleagues, or with my partners, happen because I am looking at the world from a different lens than them.
Not only that, I am assuming that they are looking at the world from the same viewpoint as me. This means that I get angry with them when they don’t agree with me.
It’s like I am looking at an issue, and it’s so clear to me what the problem is.
But they are looking at the same issue, and sometimes they don’t even see the issue as an issue at all.
Wow, that used to make me angry. As if they were deliberately trying to disagree with me. Why would they do that? I mean, why!
They don’t hate you. They aren’t deliberately going against you.
But they are looking at things from their unique perspective. A perspective that we could never match, because we cannot ever stand in their shoes.
We can try to stand in their shoes, but those shoes will never fit us. It’s not possible.
Everyone Has to Agree With Every Viewpoint of Mine, Otherwise, They Are Evil
I used to notice this tendency of mine to label everyone who didn’t agree with me, as evil.
They are evil, because they believe in buying things, and I believe in minimalism. They are evil, because I believe in eating meat (or not eating meat), and they believe in the opposite.
This is the way we form boundaries between ourselves and the world. We create separation between ourselves and everyone else around us.
It’s us against them. It’s us against the world. Us against the entire universe.
What kind of world are we be living in, if we did that? A really scary, and lonely place, to be sure.
Once, I started working with a different viewpoint, that everyone is doing the best they can. And they are not disagreeing with me, because they hate me, but because they genuinely have that opinion, my entire perspective on arguments shifted.
There is no point in having arguments with people anymore. You are not going to shift them to your way of thinking, and you don’t need to.
There is an absolute need for a diversity of opinions on this planet because that’s what makes us resilient to change and makes us grow as a species.
Cognitive bias needs to be eliminated, and a difference of opinion embraced.
We Make up Random Rules in Our Head, That No One Else Is Aware Of
Recently, I had this young woman message me on Facebook. She said that she felt alone because none of her friends reciprocated her friendship in the way that she did.
In her mind, friendship means, her friends should initiate meet-ups or call her as often as she does. According to her, they initiated but rarely and that made her feel that they weren’t true friends of hers.
I knew exactly what she was feeling because that’s what I had felt like when I was younger as well. It was a cognitive bias that she was feeling.
But I gave her this advice, which is what I follow now.
I said, “This rule that you have made up in your head that says, good friends should initiate more often and call me more often, that is just a rule that you made up. It’s not real. It’s not a rule written down in everyone’s handbooks. Your friends probably have no idea that you think this way. They don’t know that you feel lonely and friendless, because they don’t initiate. If you had a conversation with them, telling them this, perhaps, then they will understand you better, and then you can have a better friendship?”Boom Shikha
The truth is every one of us has random rules ingrained into our heads. This is the way friendships work. The way schools should work. This is the way relationships must work.
And these rules are only in our heads. No one knows of them. So when we meet someone new, they have no idea we think this way!
Every New Person in Your Life Must Be Told of Your Unwritten Rules
If you find that you are entering into way too many arguments with someone in your life, you are probably fighting over some unwritten rule that you or they have written out in your heads.
You are arguing because they feel like you’ve wronged them in some way (or vice versa), and the other person has no idea why or how they have wronged you. Cognitive bias, anyone?
I have had so many arguments recently, that when I dissected further, I realized that the person wasn’t fighting with me, because they hate me.
But because they had an idea in their head, and I had an idea in my head, and those ideas didn’t mesh with each other.
This meant that we were butting heads over legalese, over minutiae, over details.
My recommendation now to everyone new is to tell me what their unwritten rules are.
For example, if I start getting angry with someone because they always call me in the middle of the night complaining to me about their partner, then I ask them if that is a rule in their head of how friendships work. If it is, then I must share the rule that says, friends, do not disturb me in the middle of the night and disturb my sleep.
After that, we would have to find a compromise of some sort. Like, perhaps, she could email me her sorrows, instead of calling me. Or we could have a time set up during lunchtime to chat. Or something to that effect.
There is always a solution to all of these random inane fights or arguments that we end up having with our loved ones. Eliminate cognitive bias, if you can. As much as you can.
Cognitive Bias Creates the Gap Between Generations
When I first told my father that I wanted to quit my job and travel the world and find a way to sustain myself online so I could continue doing that, he was extremely angry. He was way angrier than I had ever seen him.
I was young then, and I had no idea why he was getting so angry over nothing. I was living my life. Not doing drugs or drinking alcohol. I wasn’t asking him for money to do this. I was just living my dreams.
Why was that such a cause for fervour and anger?
Nowadays, whenever I want to share one of my new ideas with him, I do it gently. I use graphs and statistics.
I try to ensure that I am not just throwing it upon him like a bucket of ice-cold water, but slowly soothing him and asking him to understand through soft arguments and cushiony statistics.
For example, when I first told him I wanted to move to Chiang Mai, I started by sending him articles from Forbes, and other well-known traditional magazines, publications that he trusted said.
The articles said that Chiang Mai was one of the safest and most entrepreneurial cities in the world. That took the edge off. So then, when I told him I was moving there, it wasn’t such a shock to him. If Forbes didn’t condemn Chiang Mai, then it can’t be that bad, can it?
When We Show People a New Way of Thinking, People Feel Like We Are Challenging Their Core
A great example of this is when I tell my women friends that I do not want children, and I do not want to be married. I have known this ever since I was a young child, and even then people always told me that I would change my mind.
But now at 37, I know that I am not going to change my mind, and I am never going to want children or marriage.
It’s fascinating to me, how every single time I say this to someone who is married or has children, they get extremely angry about it. I mean, raging mad. I don’t get it.
Why are you so angry that I don’t want to do what you did? I’m not angry that you are living the life you are leading, so why are you angry with me for wanting to live a different life?
It’s because I realize now, people feel challenged in their own beliefs when someone around them starts living a life opposite to them. It’s like that new person is telling them that their belief systems are shite, and they don’t know what they are talking about.
Of course, that new person isn’t doing that. That new person is just living their own lives as best as they can, and they want you to do the same.
But, people feel challenged. They feel like everyone is telling them that they are doing the wrong thing, and they need to start defending themselves against all of the naysayers.
If People Are Disagreeing With You, That’s Actually a Good Thing
I have a YouTube channel that I started a few years ago, for INFJs, and the Myers-Briggs personality type test. It’s a fascinating subject, at least to me, and I love sharing my opinions on it in such a public way. It gives me great joy.
But I notice that I get more pleasure from people disagreeing with me, than agreeing with me. I get a lot of people telling me that they resonate with my ideas, and they love my content, which is gratifying to hear, of course.
But, I don’t learn anything from those comments, because those people think the same as me.
Then, there are those people who rip my stuff apart and make me feel like shit. At least at the moment. After, I can learn from them and grow as a human being.
Also, if people are disagreeing with you, that means, that you’ve triggered them in a way, and that’s a great thing to do in this world where everyone is a sheep, saying yes to everyone that is around them.
We want to be able to create content that jars people into thinking differently, perhaps, even in a better way.
People only disagree with ideas and thoughts that are either drastically different from their own. Or ideas and thoughts that they secretly believe, but hate that they believe.
At least that is the case for me.
How to Put Ourselves in Other People’s Shoes – Remove Cognitive Bias
One of the ways I try to put myself in another’s way of thinking is by figuring out what their MBTI type is. You can check this out at 16personalities.com.
What it gives me is a basic understanding of how a person thinks and moves through the world.
It is just a basic understanding. But even with the basics, I can form a better bond with the person standing in front of me, than if I went in completely blind, and completely unaware of what they were like.
For example, if they are a thinker, since I am a feeler, I will try to use more thinking words, and thinking metaphors. I won’t say, I feel or I believe as often. I will say, I think or I know, more often.
Little things like that can change the entire paradigm of a relationship, especially when it’s in its first stages and still quite fragile.
As I end this blog post, I would love to hear from you on how you put yourself into other people’s shoes.
How do you avoid thinking that other people think like you? What kind of cognitive bias are you roaming around with? How can you remove this cognitive bias from your interactions with others?
I’m always looking to learn from others, and this forum is a great way to learn from each other.
That is why I love the Internet so much because I can learn from dozens of people at once, rather than just a one-on-one teacher-student interaction that I had before.