We’ve all heard that leaders are decisive. They makes decisions and they make them quickly. It seems that I’ve heard this a million times.

And that’s why a study by Kimberlee Weaver, a psychologist at Virginia Polytechnic University, caught my attention. Weaver and her colleagues found something interesting that is important to decision-makers everywhere. When we hear an opinion over and over again, it doesn’t matter if we hear it from different people or the same person multiple times, our brains simply tally up each occurrence of the opinion.

Are brains aren’t trying to lead us astray, they’re just computing the popularity of an opinion based on how often we are exposed to it. But this can have some less-than-desirable outcomes, if we’re not paying attention.

When my wife was new to teaching, she was getting complaints from students about the lack of participation by certain members in the class. And it seemed like everyday, she was hearing about this “problem.” Finally, she decided that she had to do something about it and she took steps to remind all students of the participation requirements and strictly enforcing them. Guess what, nothing changed. Those not participating as much, took the hit in their grades and those upset about it, kept on complaining. It was not her most enjoyable teaching term.

It wasn’t until later when working again with some of the same students and these issues came up again that she realized that there were only two students who were upset about the participation of their classmates, they just tended to be highly vocal about it. With more experience under her belt, she saw the situation more accurately the second time.

It is so easy to be influenced by a single or small group of people. In fact, it turns out our brains are wired for it! So when making a decision, always be sure to consider the source of your information. If an issue seems like a big deal because it feels like you’re hearing about it everyday, take the time to think about how the information is coming to you and from whom. This way you can guard against being unduly influenced by a single or small source.


John Ryan

Host of Key Conversations for Leaders Podcast, Executive Coach, Consultant, and Trainer

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