Category Archives: Culture

Skills Education

Why It Takes More than Education Or Job Experience—The Good and Bad News

When most companies decide things like hiring, promotions, and other advancements, education and work experience are usually the deciding factors. Not a good choice, according to a new study* released by the British Psychological Society.

The Bad News

Why shouldn’t we rely on college education or work experience for these issues? Because neither university study nor work experience prepare an employee for the soft skills necessary to perform at the highest level with other coworkers.

What Are Soft Skills?

Soft skills are “a cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that characterize relationships with other people,” according to Wikipedia. Basically, they are skills that all of us need to cooperate and function well in a work environment and a team.

Several of the most important abilities are to effectively:

  • communicate
  • cooperate
  • be flexible
  • work in a team
  • think critically
  • make good decisions

These are the skills that move good companies to great companies by not only improving the bottom line, but also making the work environment more positive. This leads to more productivity and lower employee turnover rates.

The Good News

If you can’t learn these skills at college or by getting work experience, how can you learn these things?

I am so glad you asked! This is where your company’s HR department and consultants like me come in. The truth is that these skills can be taught and employees can develop these abilities with training.

(Warning! Shameless self-promotion) Professional Gulf Consulting can provide top-notch training to:

  • take your company to the next level,
  • help your employees to perform better and feel better,
  • decrease employee turnover, and
  • create a better work environment

Visit our website to see how we can help you! Besides, it’s cheaper than a college education and faster than gaining work experience.

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*British Psychological Society (BPS). “University or University of Life?

Risk-Taking

We All Knew It: Men Are Idiots

Research* just came out that tests the MIT (Male Idiot Theory). Really; I’m not kidding. Scientists researched data from the Darwin Awards and found that of the 318 cases, 88.7% were men.

The Darwin Awards is a series of books and a website dedicated to people who take themselves out of the human gene pool by killing or sterilizing themselves by doing something stupid. A prime example are the terrorists who mailed a bomb with insufficient postage but with the correct return address, and then forgot what it was when it was returned to them. They opened the package and blew themselves up.

One theory for the unbelievable behaviors that the authors cite (besides the fact that men are just idiots) is that men tend to be greater risk takers.

So let’s think a minute about risk-taking.

Leaders do need to be risk-takers and the best leaders usually are the greatest risk-takers. Taking risks inspires coworkers to take risks, and as all economists will tell us, greater risk, when successful, brings greater reward.

How can we as leaders inspire our coworkers to take greater risks?

By supplying two necessary qualities to the people who look to you for leadership: security and inspiration.

Security

Attachment theory tells us that people look for closeness to others who give them comfort. Think of a child that will not stray far from his or her mother.

But comfort alone will not challenge others to reach beyond. Security must be accompanied with a challenge to explore.

Inspiration

Inspiration provides the challenge to explore and take the risks that we all need to in order to achieve outstanding results. The combination of these two factors provides the atmosphere to help our coworkers produce more than anyone ever thought possible.

How Can We Do That?

Here is a short list of actions that will provide a safe base and a challenge to inspire those around us to greatness.

1. Stay calm in the midst of the storm—during struggles people will look to you for security.

2. Accept those around you and truly care for their needs—People will feel secure if they feel accepted.

3. Listen and ask questions—The best leaders always are the best listeners.

4. Share a powerful vision—The great leader always can inspire vision through great communication skills.

5. Center on the positive—Success breeds success and great leaders remember that and harness its power.

6. Encourage risk-taking—People will respond if they feel safe and are challenged to take risks.

7. Harness the power of intrinsic motivation—Studies have shown that people are much more motivated to work hard and take risks for things that they enjoy much more than they are motivated by financial gain.

If you want to help your coworkers achieve more, provide the security they need to feel safe and the inspiration to take more risk. Hopefully all of us will keep swimming in the gene pool for a while.

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*B. A. D. Lendrem, D. W. Lendrem, A. Gray, J. D. Isaacs. The Darwin Awards: sex differences in idiotic behaviour. BMJ, 2014; 349 (dec10 20)

Kidding Ourselves

Do You Want to Receive Free Books?

Believe it or not, there are people who want to give you free books. It’s true!

All you have to do is sign up at a website called “Blogging For Books” and promise to write at least a 3-paragraph review of the book, and they will send you a free book or ebook. The topics include fiction; non-fiction; cooking & food; business; entertainment; faith; crafts, home, & hobbies; and better living.

I requested the book “Fooling Ourselves—The Hidden Power of Self-Deception” by Joseph T. Hallinan. I think you will enjoy some of the great insights from the book.

The review is below.

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“Fooling Ourselves—The Hidden Power of Self-Deception” by Joseph T. Hallinan.

I had heard a lot of very positive things about this book before I read it, so I was greatly looking forward to the read. Unfortunately, I was mildly disappointed. Already having a familiarity with the subject, I expected Hallinan to make a scientific case for several points and then back these points up with stories and illustrations. Instead, the book mostly seemed to be stories with little scientific basis and few points drawn.

That said, I do think the book will be helpful to me in my consulting business and I will refer to it again for illustrations and lecture topics. The main point of the book is that every day, in many ways, we lie to ourselves. That is the reason why many people don’t wear seat belts despite the risk of a car accident and why they know that other human beings have heart attacks, get cancer, and get divorced, but they believe they never will. It is also why smokers who smoked 40 cigarettes a day believed that they were at no increased risk of lung cancer.

Superstitions Can Be Helpful

One of the unexpected and most interesting ideas in the book was the fact that this self-deception is not alway wrong. Take the example of superstitions. We tend to think superstitions are always harmful, but sometimes they are helpful. To cite one example, consider athletes. It is no secret that athletes exhibit some of  the most superstitious behavior in the Western world. Michael Jordan wore a pair of shorts from his college days every game he played in the NBA because he thought it would give him good luck. Coaches and players often have a ritual they will follow before every game to get an “edge.”

That doesn’t mean that good luck charms don’t work. Superstitions often are beneficial. They increase the feeling of control and self-efficacy—both of which increase outcomes. So, if the athlete believes that his or her ritual will help his of her performance, chances are that it actually will. Ad Hallinan says,“So why would superstition be good for us? In a word, it works. Not always and not for everything: it won’t make you tall if you are short, and it won’t stop speeding bullets or runaway trains. But when what we seek to accomplish lies within the realm of our abilities—when it is, in other words, doable—superstitious beliefs can tip the scales in our favor.”

Two laughable insights

  • In almost all elevators built after 1990, the “close door” button doesn’t actually do anything. It simply gives us a feeling of control.
  • At most busy intersections, the button we push to cross the street also is not functional. Again, we have more of a sense of control and are willing to wait for the crossing signal if we push a button.

In summary, if you are willing to wade through a long stream of stories to find a few actionable insights, you will like Fooling Ourselves.

Deceiving ourselves is often beneficial, and Hallinan helps us understand that. As he says, “My goal here has been simply to point out that self-deception, for all its obvious downsides, is an inherent human trait. It has been around a long time, and it endures for a reason: under limited but crucial circumstances, it helps us persevere. It does this, chiefly, by affording us that key piece of psychological scaffolding: a sense of control. This sense may ultimately prove to be a mirage, but the results it yields are very real. People with a high sense of control tend to live happier, healthier, longer lives. Viewed from this vantage, a little self-deception is not only helpful, it’s essential.”

Motorcycle

Can 20 Seconds Change Your Life?

My wife and I got some tragic news yesterday. Our brother-in-law was stopped at a light while riding his motorcycle and was hit by a car. The injuries are not life-threatening, but he has 6 broken ribs, a punctured lung, and had some internal bleeding. I’m sure he’ll make a full recovery, but his life for the next few months was certainly changed in 20 seconds.

As it turns out, you also can change your life daily for the better in just 20 seconds. We’ve talked about how to make positive changes in your private and work life before. We mentioned that it is important to have the correct time perspective and a whole series on multitasking. (Blog- 14-07-01-Multitasking Part 1-“Multitasking Part 1-Are You Really As Good As You Think You Are?”)

Today is about a very simple strategy to increase your “willpower.”

All of us have areas where we want to do less of one bad thing and start doing more of a good thing. It can be in the area of online distractions (to increase productivity) or health (to eat more heathy food and less junk food) or safety (stop talking on the phone while driving). I wish the person who hit my brother-in-law would have done that one!

Shawn Achor, in his book The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work has a great idea of how to do those things. We should lower the cost of doing the right thing and raise the cost of doing the “bad” thing.

For example, if you have a weight problem because you are snacking too much, put the snacks in a locked drawer and put the key for the drawer in a difficult to reach location. Do you want to read more books and watch less TV? Unplug the TV each time after you are done, wind up and tie up the power cord, and put it behind the TV where it is hard to reach.

How Much “Cost” Do You Need To Add?
The exciting part about following this  technique is that research shows that for most people, only 20 seconds is the “Cost barrier” that makes the difference between good habits and bad ones. Only 20 seconds! You really can change your life in 20 seconds.

How Can You Do it?
There are two simple steps to changing bad habits this way.

1. Decide what you want to change

2. Put a 20-second barrier in your way to doing the bad habit and make it easier to do the good habit.

Do you want to read 20 books this year?

Do you want to learn how to play the piano?

Do you want to complete some big project that you have not finished in several months or years.

Take 20 seconds and get it done!

Motorcycle

Can 20 Seconds Change Your Life?

My wife and I got some tragic news yesterday. Our brother-in-law was stopped at a light while riding his motorcycle and was hit by a car. The injuries are not life-threatening, but he has 6 broken ribs, a punctured lung, and had some internal bleeding. I’m sure he’ll make a full recovery, but his life for the next few months was certainly changed in 20 seconds.

As it turns out, you also can change your life daily for the better in just 20 seconds. We’ve talked about how to make positive changes in your private and work life before. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that it is important to have the correct time perspective  and I did a whole a whole series on multitasking.

Today is about a very simple strategy to increase your “willpower.”

All of us have areas where we want to do less of one bad thing and start doing more of another good thing. It can be in the area of online distractions (to increase productivity) or health (to eat more heathy food and less junk food) or safety (stop texting while driving). I wish the person who hit my brother-in-law would have done the last one!

Shawn Achor, in his book The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work, has a great idea of how to do those things. We should lower the cost of doing the right thing and raise the cost of doing the “bad” thing.

For example, if you have a weight problem because you are snacking too much, put the snacks in a locked drawer and put the key for the drawer in a difficult to reach location. Do you want to read more books and watch less TV? Unplug the TV each time after you are done, wind up and tie up the power cord, and put it behind the TV where it is hard to reach.

How Much “Cost” Do You Need To Add?

The exciting part about following this exciting technique is that research shows that for most people, only 20 seconds is the “cost barrier” that makes the difference between good habits and bad ones. Only 20 seconds! You really can change your life in 20 seconds.

How Can You Do it?

There are two simple steps to changing bad habits this way.

1. Decide what you want to change

2. Put a 20-second barrier in your way to doing the bad habit and make it easier to do the good habit.

Do you want to read 20 books this year?

Do you want to learn how to play the piano?

Do you want to complete some big project that you have not finished in several months or years.

Take 20 seconds and get it done!

Wait For It…

Sad BulldogWe talked last time about the marshmallow experiment where children were tested for their ability to delay gratification. As you may remember, children who were able to wait a few minutes in order to receive a greater reward, also had higher social skills, higher emotional skills, were more self-confident, had higher IQ’s, and higher scores on the SAT test.

We also mentioned last time that greater success in relationships, business, and leadership is associated with the proper mix of time orientation. That mix seems to be a positive view of the past (without concentrating on past events), a focus on the present, with a moderately high focus on the future.

Today we will apply these insights and talk about how to better delay gratification and live in a better time orientation mix.

Delaying Gratification

As with most things, the ability to delay gratification is somewhat inside and outside our control. Two studies point to the fact that our personality and social setting can make it harder for us to wait for a reward. One study* found that extroverts have a harder time with delayed gratification and another study** found that nearly all people are less likely to wait for a reward in a negative social setting. That is, it is harder to wait for a reward if the person giving the reward is not considered trustworthy.

But, even if you are an extrovert and are in a poor social setting, there are some things you can do to improve your ability to delay gratification.

Three of the most important things you can do are:

1. Know what you want to do. Think of things that are important to you and may be difficult to achieve, then set a goal to reach that objective.

2. Make a plan. Figure out the best way reach that goal and write it down. The “writing it down” part is much more important than you might think.

3. Make decisions in advance. Before you get into a situation where you might want to trade something smaller now for something better in the future, make your decision ahead of time.

Here’s an example. I remember in the months before my wife and I got married, we wanted to make a downpayment on a home (#1—what we wanted to do—our goal). We figured out how much we would need and how much we needed to save each week in order to have enough (#2—our plan). Unfortunately, we had nothing to spare in our budget. We determined ahead of time to save what we needed for the downpayment each week no matter what (#3—made a decision in advance). I remember many times when I wanted to buy a candy bar on the way home from work or we wanted to go out to eat, but those things weren’t in our budget. We delayed many short-term goals in order to achieve what we really wanted—the downpayment on the house we would live in our first few years of marriage.

Achieving the Best Time Orientation Mix

Remember that the best mix of time orientation is positive view of the past without concentrating on it, with a focus on the present and a moderately high focus on the future. How can we do that better?

To keep this short, I’ll just list bullet points here.

To lessen an emphasis on the negative past:
Don’t blame yourself
Decide that it is in the past and done, and remind yourself of that when you start to think about the past

To live more in the present (if you think too much about the future):
Do less, not more
Waste time on purpose
Be spontaneous sometimes
Take time enjoy eating, drinking your coffee or tea, listening to music, or reading a good book
Play with children

To be more future oriented:
Wear a watch
Make a habit of delaying gratification
Make a to-do list
Make appointments and stick to them

So, wait for your marshmallows and enjoy the journey!

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*Society for Personality and Social Psychology (2013, January 17). Understanding personality for decision-making, longevity, and mental health.

**Laura Michaelson, Alejandro de la Vega, Christopher H. Chatham, Yuko Munakata. Delaying gratification depends on social trust. Frontiers in Psychology, 2013; 4 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00355

A Category Allegory

Janet- Sized for InternetTry to see if you can put a label on Janet.

Janet was great member of our team a few years ago. She was born in Taiwan and spoke the Fujian dialect of Chinese in her home. At age one, her family moved to Brazil and Portuguese became her first language. When she was 12, she moved to California and started speaking English primarily. Wanting to find some new friends, she started visiting the Chinese-speaking church across the street from her house and learned Mandarin Chinese. She had a passion for teaching and graduated from college with a degree in teaching Spanish. (That’s her 5th language, in case you weren’t counting.)

So, if you wanted to describe Janet in one or two words, how would you do it? Is she a studious Chinese? A laid-back Brazilian? A liberal Californian?

It’s hard, isn’t it?

We are going to look at categories today in the second and last part of this short series on perception in culture. In the first part of this series, we talked about two important facts:

1.) we have too much information coming into our brains, so have to notice only certain things; and

2.) many of the things we do notice are determined by culture.

Why Are Categories Important?

Every time we see something new or meet someone for the fist time, we must put the thing or the person into a category. This has to do with the “too much information problem” we talked about earlier. Categories are one way that our brains help us make sense of the world by making the world a simpler place.

Are Categories Good or Bad?

Are categories good ro bad? The answer is yes and no. Categories can be good (and are absolutely necessary) to help us make sense of the world. They can be bad because they also are the root of prejudice and negative stereotyping.

Whenever we meet someone for the first time, we are forced to put them into a category in order to make sense of the world. Those categories are largely based on our experience. If the new coworker is Korean and we have had good experiences with Koreans in the past, we are very likely to begin the relationship with a positive view. Unfortunately, the reverse is true. If we have had bad experiences with Koreans in the past, even though we have never met the new employee, we very likely will have a negative view of him or her. We can’t help it; we are humans and that is what humans do to deal with the flood of information hitting our brains every moment.

Two Extremely Important Points About Categories

Firm Categories

People tend to either have firmer or looser categories and this distinction is based both on personality and culture. Some people by nature have very firm categories and some cultures also tend to have categories that are fixed and inflexible. In other personality types and cultures, the categories are looser. The firmer the category, the less likely we are to change our opinion and feelings about the new person or experience.

Category Width

In every category there are 3 areas: “good,” “bad,” and not good or bad, just “different.” When psychologists talk about category width, they are talking about how wide the “different” part in the middle of the category is.

Narrow Categories

Practical Help

If you really want to be effective as part of a multicultural team and communicate well in a multicultural environment, you can do 2 important things.

  • Be less firm in your categories. Be open to new ideas and feelings about new people you meet and the actions of others from different cultures. Expand your mind and be open to change.
  • Expand your category width. Try to see fewer things as either “good” or “bad” based on your cultural perspective and increase the middle part—the “just different” part—of your categories.

Not as good:

Narrow Categories

 

 

Better:

Wide Categories

 

 

So, how do you put a label on Janet? The answer is that we can’t. Neither can we put a strict label on anybody. We are all a mixture of cultures and personalities. Expand your categories and your mind and enjoy the beautiful diversity of this beautiful world.

Are You Really Seeing What You Think You Are Seeing?

Click on me for a cool optical illusion

Click on me for a cool optical illusion

Your eyes can fool you!

For one of the coolest optical illusions I have seen, click on the picture then come back here. No matter how many times you watch the short video clip and no matter how sure you are that the cube is the same size on all sides, every time you look at this picture it will fool you.

We’re talking today about perception and how much culture effects what we see and what we think we see.

Too Much Happening At Once

Because our brain is bombarded with information every moment of every day, we must be selective in what we notice (“attend to” to use a more scientific word). By “bombarded” I mean that our brains receive 400 billion (with a “b!”) pieces of information every second.

400 Billion Messages a Second!

How can that be? Think about the fact that you could probably hear dozens of sounds right this minute if you stopped to listen. Add to that the things that go unnoticed by your nose, eyes, and your tongue all times. Simultaneously, every inch of your skin is firing millions of signals to your brain 24/7. You don’t notice the slight taste of your breakfast still stuck between your teeth, the smell of the cologne you put on this morning, and the feel of your shirt touching your back.

You Must Be Selective

The reason you don’t notice these billions of inputs bombarding your brain is because we have to be selective in what we notice in order to survive. We can’t be thinking about our pants touching our leg all day long or we wouldn’t get anything done.

We seem to be “hard-wired” to notice certain things. Movement is one. In an entire room filled with hundreds of still things, a small mouse running across the room will immediately grab our attention. Followed by our screaming and jumping on a chair also grabbing the attention of the folks in the next room.

Faces are another thing we notice. We have all heard stories about people seeing famous people or religious figures in a piece of toast or in the clouds, but actually that is normal and not strange. In some recent research*, Dr. Kang Lee said, “…our findings suggest that it’s common for people to see non-existent (facial) features because human brains are uniquely wired to recognize faces, so that even when there’s only a slight suggestion of facial features the brain automatically interprets it as a face.”

Culture Helps Decide What We Notice

In some cultures people pay close attention to the numbers on license plates, and in some cultures it matters very little. Americans will rarely notice the numbers on a license plate, while Arabs usually care much more about it. In China, it is extremely important because some numbers are very lucky and other very unlucky. Rich Chinese people have been known to pay many thousands of dollars to get a “fortunate” license plate.

Does It Matter?

Does it matter what we pay attention to? It matters a lot because in intercultural relations people from different cultures will notice different things and will take away different understandings from the things they pay attention to. Not handling the differences well can lead to distrust and misunderstandings while being a master at it will greatly help your multicultural capability.

Next time, we will meet my friend, Janet, and learn a couple of great ways to not get caught in the cultural perception trap.

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*Jiangang Liu, Jun Li, Lu Feng, Ling Li, Jie Tian, Kang Lee. Seeing Jesus in toast: Neural and behavioral correlates of face pareidolia. Cortex, 2014; 53: 60 DOI: 10.1016/j.cortex.2014.01.013

Multitasking Part 1: Are You Really As Good As You Think You Are?

Young woman driving , applying lipstick and speaking on her smart phoneTrue story: A friend hit a mailbox. She couldn’t understand why, but she said she was driving a car while putting on makeup, eating breakfast, and talking on the phone at the same time.

It seems that all of us are multitasking these days and the younger generations have seemingly built their lives on perfecting the fine art of multitasking.

Is it good? Is it bad? The answer is “Yes! Multitasking is both good and bad.”

This is the first part of a 4-part series on multitasking. I think you will find this series to  be very interesting and extremely helpful. Here is the plan:

Part 1: What Multitasking Is and Some Interesting Facts About It

Part 2: Bad Multitasking: Those Who Shouldn’t Multitask, Do It the Most

Part 3: Good Multitasking: The Good News Is, Multitasking Isn’t All Bad

Part 4: Practical Tips: How To Do It, Do It, Do It Right

A Computer and Your Brain

The term “multitasking” first was coined in the 1960’s to describe when multiple tasks were being performed by one CPU (computer brain). The word eventually also came to be used to describe when a person was performing multiple tasks at one time. It is a bit of a misconception, however, because neither a CPU nor your brain can actually do more than one thing at a time.

Then why does it seem like we can multitask? Like a computer, our brains are capable of performing multiple tasks so quickly in succession it seems they are being performed at the same time. The big difference between the human brain and the computer CPU is that a computer is very good at handling the “shut off” and “start up” procedures necessary to switch back and forth between two or more tasks. Our brains are really not very good at it. (More interesting scientific facts about this in Part 2.)

“Multitasking is a lie because nearly everyone accepts it as an effective thing to do, but when you try to do two things at once, you either can’t or won’t do either well. Multitasking is an effective way to get less done.” (Gary Keller in his book, “The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results” -emphasis mine.)

Multitasking Is Killing Us

We are literally dying from multitasking—one fast way, and one slow way.

The fast way to a multitasking death—multitasking while driving a car.
Here are the facts:

  • Texting while driving makes a driver 23x more likely to crash.
  • Drivers talking on a cell phone are 4x more likely to have a car accident.
  • In 2012 in the USA, 3,328 people were killed in distraction-related crashes.
  • In 2012 in the USA, almost half a million people were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver.

The slow way to a multitasking death— higher tension, blood pressure, and stress from multitasking.

“There is data to show that multitasking leads to more distractibility and poor concentration…When we’re in speed mode, we have to be more on edge and alert, which naturally creates tension and agitance…We also would do well to place limits on the times during which we multitask.” (Marc Schoen in his book, “Your Survival Instinct Is Killing You: Retrain Your Brain to Conquer Fear, Make Better Decisions, and Thrive in the 21st Century.”)

Some Interesting Facts About Multitasking

Multitasking Is Killing Productivity
While at work, the average American:

  • checks email more than 11 times a day
  • open their inbox every 20 minutes
  • took 15 minutes to return to their previous task after checking email

Because of this, some scientists estimate that the average American focuses on one task only about 15 minutes per hour.

Women Really Are Better At Multitasking!
Some recent researchers* have found that under certain conditions the old adage really is true: women really are better at multitasking than men.

Well, I’m don writing this article, so it’s time for me to turn off my music, shut down my email, and quit texting. I think I need to read my next post about why, when, and where we shouldn’t multitask! Stay tuned.

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*Gijsbert Stoet, Daryl B O’Connor, Mark Conner and Keith R Laws. Are women better than men at multitasking? BMC Psychology, October 2013

I Was In A Panic…

Calm Panic Buttons Show Panicking Or CalmnessThe huge Pakistani man standing in front of me thrust out his hand and suddenly I didn’t know what to do.

Was he threatening me? No, he was smiling.

Am I fearful of Pakistanis? No, all my barbers are Pakistani and I let them flash razors around my head all the time.

Why was I so afraid?

It was his big, yellow truck.

He was there to empty the septic tank and I knew that he had spent his day sucking out sewers… and now he wanted to shake my hand.

For many of you that wouldn’t be a problem, but Cindy sometimes accuses me of being “germophobic.” My response is that I’m not afraid of Germans, although I am pretty wary of Italians with super-spicy meatballs. She thinks I may have mysophobia, or the fear of contamination or germs.

I’m not afraid of germs, I just feel the same way about them that I do about heights—I have a very healthy respect.

Now he wanted me to shake his hand. I gulped.

The truth is, we miscalculate danger all the time. For example, one Noble prize winning psychologist asked people the question, “Are you more likely to die being eaten by a shark or by falling airplane parts?” nearly everyone thinks that sharks are the biggest danger. In fact, you are 30 times more likely to die from falling airplane parts than you are by a shark attack. I guess your chances of dying must skyrocket if you live on a beach near an airport.

This kind of miscalculation not only effects our vacation plans, but also our lives in interactions with people from other cultures. The problem is information and the fact that we bring familiar information to mind first and make decisions based on easy information instead of correct information.

Here are 3 pitfalls that we often fall into.

1. Availability Error-
That’s the problem in the shark/airplane question. A shark attack is big news, so we hear about it more, so it seems to happen more often. Unless we actually do the research, we feel like a shark attack is a greater danger.

I sometimes call it the fortune cookie problem. In America, most Chinese restaurants finish each meal with a fortune cookie. When Americans travel to China and eat real Chinese food, they are shocked not to get a fortune cookie. Fortune cookies are an American Chinese thing and not a real Chinese thing. (Wikipedia reference)

Error Correction: Do your research!

2. Confirmation Error-
Have you ever considered buying a certain brand of car and suddenly it seems that everyone is driving that kind of car? It may not actually be as popular as it seems. When we hold an idea or attitude, we are constantly seeking confirmation that we are correct and will grab onto small verifications that are really not proof at all.

Error Correction: Think objectively!

3. Out-Group Homogeneity Error-
Out-groups are people from a different group than ours. I am a male, so women are an out-group for men. I am an American, so Italians (and their super-spicy meatballs) are an out-group.

We tend to see people in our in-groups as very different, but people in our out-groups as being all the same. I’m sure not all New Yorkers are rude and and all Koreans like rice.

Error Correction: Notice differences!

Back to the Pakistani, I did shake his hand and was glad to make a new friend that day. I did, however, go in my house and wash my hands. Twice!