Discounting The Opinions of People That You Like
Updated: Apr 7
A safety warning is engraved on every car in the US: "Objects in mirrors are closer than they appear". Despite being essential for safe driving, our car's mirrors can cause us to see a distorted view of reality. To avoid accidents, we sometimes need to overcompensate.
The same principle applies to people. Subconsciously, we judge ideas not on their merits but on whether we like (or dislike) the person who communicates them. In order to make effective decisions we need to see reality, and reality does not care if a person is nice or not.
The factors that determine if we like or dislike someone can be quite subtle but the result of following (or rejecting) their advice can be huge. Often the people who don't care to make a good impression are often the ones that we should be listening to and the people who are charismatic are the ones who are trying to manipulate us.
There are three ways in which I have found that we can see reality more clearly and avoid the tendency to make decisions based on whether we like or dislike a person:
The first step in seeing more clearly is through self-awareness. You can become more self-aware by asking yourself how you feel about a person (or organization) that is communicating with you. Do you like or dislike them? Do they annoy or frustrate you?
Let's take Elon Musk as an example. Do you like him? What are his positive and negative traits? If your list is one-sided, you may be letting your bias cloud your judgment.
Barack Obama said: “If I proposed something that was literally word for word in the Republican Party platform, it would be immediately opposed by eighty to ninety percent of the Republican voters. And the reason is not that they’ve evaluated what I said. It’s that I said it.”
The equivalent would no doubt occur with Trump and democrat voters. Often our identity makes it hard to support anything that an out-group proposes, even if it is the best solution.
To help judge an idea on its merits and not on the person who communicates it we can ask someone for their perspective on the issue without mentioning the source. Not only does this help to build the relationship, but it also allows you to gain an independent opinion, detached from the distortion caused by liking or disliking the messenger.
3. Over Compensate
Recently I viewed a property that I was interested in buying. As I walked around the house with the seller I asked a number of questions but each one was brushed off dismissively and without eye contact.
The owner and their attitude should not determine if a property is a good investment, however, it may influence how you judge the property. I initially ranked the property a 7/10 but I increased it to 8/10 once I realized that the owner was affecting my opinion of the house.
The next time you judge an investment, idea or opinion remember that we are more likely to accept it if it comes from someone that we like. Our liking (or disliking) of a person shouldn’t change the merit of their idea, but it often does. To overcome this bias learn to become more self-aware of the people that you like and dislike and to overcompensate or get an outside opinion to help you detach from the bias.