Things are not always as they seem. Social comparison research has shown that people tend to view others as less ethical than themselves and as less ethical than they actually are (Halbesleben, Buckley, & Sauer, 2004).

Much of this is because we see and hear things that appear to add up to something we’ve seen or heard about before. The more you’ve been trained (or trained yourself) to identify these recognizable patterns, the more of them you will find. To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And it follows that if you’ve trained yourself to see/fear the negative outcomes more than the positive ones then what you remember finding will often support that belief. These patterns of recognition aren’t reliable because the things that stand out  — and are therefore easier to remember — are often the exceptions, the extremes. Most of the time it really is just a coincidence, or something relatively innocent that is happening.

Unfortunately we often convey, in subtle ways, a lack of trust that goes hand in hand with these assumptions we make. This undermines our interactions and in the process can undermine those with whom we interact. It can be very subtle, but if you convey a lack of trust the other party will be less inclined to trust you, and this basis of distrust can lead to a self-fulfilling prophesy.

I’m not suggesting you foolishly trust everyone, but based on the above research, people deserve to get the benefit of the doubt. When in doubt…ASK.

9 Responses to “Judging”

  1. 1 Vivian October 27, 2012 at 9:49 am

    Funny. I think of myself as being on the other “extreme” when I look at someone’s actions. I almost always believe what people say, etc. until proven otherwise. I assume (we agree this can be a bad thing) that a person’s actions has some logical explanation that I would agree with if I only knew it. Think maybe this reflects our upbringing even though they were in many ways different because of the age gap?

  2. 2 David Stewart October 27, 2012 at 10:17 pm

    I am right there with you Vivian. I often end up feeling a bit naive when I compare my thoughts on these things to other people. I do get taken advantage of on occasion.

  3. 3 David Stewart October 27, 2012 at 10:26 pm

    Another point worth considering…the study points to the fact that PERCEPTION is others are less ethical than we believe. Perception is very tricky. Maybe people are generally even more ethical than we (you and I) believe.

    Whether or not that’s the case, the real point here is that it doesn’t take much distrust to undermine some things in subtle ways.

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