One of the great paradoxes of working remotely is this: getting good information out to all the team members in a timely manner is a time-consuming challenge, but rumors, gossip and bad information spread faster than hot butter. If you’re a manager, this can be frustrating. If you’re a remote employee, it can be tempting to take the first information you get and react immediately.
With that in mind, how exactly can you process information properly?
Lately I’ve been reading a number of books on critical thinking and managing the information overload we all face. Books like “Factfulness,” by Hans Rosling and “The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe,” by Steven Novella and his team have set out a number of rules to help sift truth from rumor, and take the emotion out of deciding which information is true and what’s just rumor.
I’ve been working really hard to apply some of these rules to avoid knee-jerk reactions to things I hear.
Here are some of the questions we need to ask ourselves:
Where did the information come from?
Do you know the original source of the information? Was it stated explicitly or is someone’s interpretation of the facts? (Assuming they are facts at all.)
How is your bias affecting your reaction to this information?
What’s your working relationship like with Bob? Are you always willing to believe the worst about his work? Is that based on actual job performance or the fact that he’s a Dallas Cowboys fan? We believe information that fits our assumptions and tend to ignore evidence that doesn’t comply with our world view.
Do you really understand the information, or does it just sound scary?
Many writers are warning us of a crisis of “innumeracy,” the inability to properly understand numbers, statistics, and financial information. I’m certainly guilty of this. Before responding to numbers ask yourself a number of questions including:
- “What does “average” mean? When someone tells us the “average” of something it could be hiding a wide range of data.
- “When someone says ‘most of you’, does that really mean anything? A majority might be 90% or 51%. There’s a huge difference between those two numbers, but we often respond to the word “most” emotionally.
- What is that number compared to? If someone says “we’re a quarter million dollars short,” that can sound ominous. If your budget is a million dollars, that’s a very big deal. If it’s ten million, it’s bad but not the end of the world. Do you really know what the numbers mean?
- How many sources did you check before passing the news on yourself? Yes, this is kind of a subset of “where did you get the information from,” but that was about getting the information in the first place. Answering this question is necessary before passing information on or taking drastic action. You don’t want to be part of the problem.
Working remotely by definition limits the amount of information we receive and the sources from which it comes. Don’t be too quick to respond to everything you hear, and slow your roll on passing information on before you’ve actually checked the sources and understood what the information actually means.
Have you ever heard gossip or information and over-reacted before truly understanding or vetting it? We’d love to hear about it in the comments. Help someone else avoid these traps.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.