The information age has produced significant advancement for the human race. The availability of technology has enabled us to establish greater connectivity and has allowed us to bridge the geographic gap.

However with all these advancements we see a certain level of polarization that has widened the gap of thought between people. At the TEDxDeadSea event today the first speaker, Rula AlAssi spoke about differences and how it is important to create acceptance of these differences for society. Rula’s presentation in a way is related to a problem that is often discussed in political circles, which I will term “tuning-out”

“Tuning-out” is when we decide to not listen to a person because we perceive their point of view as contradictory to our point of view. We choose not to hear them or decide not to believe them because they offer us a perspective different from our own. This issue is not specific to a political party, religious belief, or national origin. This issue is a lot more pervasive. This behavior is most visible when people choose to believe or dis-believe a point of fact in spite of the existence of over-whelming evidence to the contrary. It may be due to cynicism or embracing conspiracy theory.

In the political space there are tons of examples that highlight this issue and they are often controversial. As I said they don’t reside on one side of the isle. Let me illustrate by two examples that are outside the realm of reality and at best live in the space of conspiracy theory:

– President Bush and his administration are behind the 9/11 attacks
– President Obama is not a naturally born American

The point of highlighting the above statements is not to make a political statement but to point out the fact that there is no evidence that can corroborate their authenticity. Yet there are people who choose to believe them because they fit within our chosen world narrative.

Indeed we live in a world where our access to information is like a lunch buffet at a cafeteria. Everything is available and we get to select whichever narrative we are most comfortable with as opposed to the narrative based on fact.

If we look at this behavior and examine how it might apply in the business world, it might be surprising to learn that it is more pervasive than the political sphere. This problem can include:

– Executives hiring employees who only agree wit their point of view.
– Leaders dismissing information that contradicts data they have or challenge a decision they’ve made.
– Consultants who provide information that organizations already know and agree with.

The examples identified above are problems because they are not in the best interest of the organizations we work with. This “tuning-out” behavior presents barriers to success and generate risks that can result in failure. How can we then resolve this issue or get over this barrier?

– Embrace diversity of opinion and ensure that our teams include people who come from different backgrounds. This is all about combating group-think.
– Making a conscious decision to listen to people even if their ideas challenge our assumptions or take us out of our comfort zone.
– Championing fact-based decision making and separating emotions from fact.
– Inviting trusted advisors to critique our plans and decisions. To encourage them to highlight the gaps they see in our reasoning.

Success in combating “tuning-out” requires that we recognize that we have a bias, both or a personal and corporate level. Once we do, we then have to build a plan to ensure that diversity of opinion is presented in the board room and on the conference table. Then to create a safe-space to allow descent in decision making.