In 1956, Israeli researchers discovered that children worked better when rules or physical barriers — barriers that would make it difficult for them to escape or control the situation — disappeared.
I have often wondered why, in situations when there are no concrete rules about how to act, human beings persist in making decisions based on gut feelings and reasoned reasoning. The fact that so many people like to express their opinions, regardless of the result, is a demonstration of just how badly we’ve failed to prepare ourselves to handle situations with consequences no matter how much our assumptions about human behavior change over time.
In any case, having a stake in the situation that I’m currently observing reinforces my tendency to rely on observable, objective factors, especially when the stakes are high. When someone demands I provide my opinion about a job application, I say something like: “Maybe the person doesn’t have experience, but at the same time I want to know what he looks like. If he’s really nice, I may be inclined to hire him.” When employers are looking for people who have the qualities needed for their job, their goal is to evaluate how those qualities will affect the organization’s overall performance.
When, however, the situation is not one of competition, there’s no need to reveal my initial impression about a candidate or describe how I’d respond to any particular question. Instead, I take the higher road and let the candidate explain how he reached his conclusion about the job opportunity he’s seeking.
Of course, the higher the stakes, the more we’re tempted to slip back into an all-or-nothing mode. But the experience that we gain by trying to get out of the impulsive, impulse-driven mode and into the mode of making decisions based on fact has been highly beneficial to my own decision-making.
I recently observed a situation in which a wanted candidate applied for a job with a large multinational. The interview process lasted more than an hour, with each time his interviewer asked for a comment. At the end of the day, after more than 25 hours of hearing about his proposal and anticipating his thoughts about the question, I commented to the interviewer, “It was nice to have seen you again.”
She smiled and pointed out that it was probably a good idea to interview again, even though she did not feel that she’d adequately addressed the issue with him. “I’m so glad you said that. There might be an opportunity later on.” And then she took a final look at the application and said, “Thanks, but that’s not quite the right kind of job.”