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I once had a client turn down a proposed project manager due to perceptions. The manager had worked with the client previously and had familiarity with the environment – which was a selling point – but his role on previous projects had been more supportive than directive, and the client could not picture him operating in a lead role. To the client, it was as if the person stepping into the project manager role was the exact person that had ended the previous project a few years ago. There was no consideration of the experiences that had transpired in the meantime, the other projects that made the lead more valuable. Or the fact that developments happen outside the realm of our observation. It relates to Theory of Mind, as Timothy Wilson explains in Strangers to Ourselves:

The prevailing wisdom is that a theory of mind develops around the age of four, as shown by children’s performance in what is called the false-belief paradigm. In a typical study, children watch an actor place something in a hidden location. They might see Matt, for example, hide a piece of candy in a box and leave the room. Sally then enters the room, finds the piece of candy, and puts it in a basket a few feet away. When Sally leaves and Matt returns, the stage is set. Where will Matt look for the candy: in the box where he put it, or in the basket where Sally hid it? Most four-year-olds reply to this question by saying, “the box where he hid it.” They recognize the seemingly obvious point that Matt still believes the candy is in the box because he did not see Sally put it in the basket. Most three-year-old, however, say that Matt will look in the basket where Sally hid the candy. They seem unable to separate their own knowledge from another person’s, assuming that because they know that the candy is in the basket, Matt knows this too. They do not yet have a well-developed theory of mind that tells them that other people can have different beliefs from their own.

Developing and maintaining a shared understanding is powerful. Clearly communicate what was discussed in the boardroom (or decided at the dinner table) to others needing to know. Escalate relevant information appropriately and timely. Consider advancements outside the walls of the company, and new knowledge that can be applied. Recognizing that others’ beliefs are different is a start.

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