Skepticism is critical to solid decision-making!
The fact is that skepticism is a positive force that successful managers apply regularly in making decisions. All managers as well as those that are asked to follow a particular path need to be able to test the conclusion if the impact of a bad direction or decision could make a difference or have a negative impact on organizational mission or people.
As individuals, those with real-world smarts accept few things at face value, while organizations tend to accept without questions the decisions made by “the system”, especially if they are based on reams computer printouts.
There are six common sense rules that guide decision-makers in the skillful application of skepticism.
- Don’t be a knee-jerk skeptic. Establish a basis in fact before voicing skepticism, rather than acting on gut reactions.
- Double check all facts and assumptions, especially those introduced with “As everybody knows…”. Look for the underlying facts and trends.
- Use skepticism particularly when he outcome of an issue is really important.
- Be tactful and constructive when expressing doubt. Use terms such as, “I wonder if you have thought about…?” “Have you considered…?” What would happen if…?” “Are you sure you want to do that/proceed in that direction….?”
- Turn on the skeptic’s radar when a presentation is loaded with sweeping generalities. Remember, there are no sure bets; no gains without risks.
- Be skeptical about your skepticism. A healthy level of suspicion is needed to survive and thrive, while at the same time, you must suspect this attitude if it crops up constantly about all things.
Ask yourself if a claim, statement or pitch which you are being asked to weigh in or implement makes sense? Is it based on a re-play of history? Are the facts being used to support it logical and sound? There is no substitute for organizational history. Does it pass the smell test?; I refer to it as my “crap-detector”!
Skepticism Can Be An Uncomfortable Role
The role of the skeptic is not easy. It is often uncomfortable as well as hazardous. “Group Think” is hard to resist. Too often the call for team play means the suspension of healthy doubts.
No one is comfortable and happy taking the heat of doubting the steamrollers that come running through a meeting when all of the “facts” and “conclusions” are projected on the screen in dazzling slides and printouts, enclosed in handsome three-ring binders, are passed around for further study. Especially if a senior executive – or your boss – is doing the presenting!
To paraphrase a popular adage, “To question the presentation when the majority is applauding is to be the proverbial bastard at the family reunion.”
Skepticism Wins Over Blind Faith
Nevertheless, common sense says you’ll get farther along the career path with a healthy dose of skepticism than you will with blind faith in what the organization says and does.
Bertrand Russell, the renowned British mathematician and philosopher, had this to say about the place of skepticism in career success:
“For my part, I should wish to preach the will to doubt…what is wanted is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out, which is the exact opposite. In all affairs, it is a healthy thing, now and then, to hang a question mark on all things you take for granted.”
If you are skittish about using skepticism as a tool to accelerate your trip on your career path, run a test. For the next 60 days observe those whom you respect for their prowess in mastering the dynamics of life in organizations. See how many times they act as skeptics and how they do it.
If you find skepticism working for successful managers, what makes you think it won’t help you reach your career goals?
Use skepticism as one more tool in your quest for success and building your career. Good luck!!
This essay is an adaptation of an article written by John Barney and that appeared in an issue of Business Time Zone Magazine ( http://businesstimezone.com )
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