What Don't You See?

unconscious, subconscious, bias, assumptions, beliefs, Yan Maschke, Executive Coach, leadership, Cleveland Ohio

“Until we make the unconscious conscious, it will run our lives and we will call it fate.” - Carl Jung

I served a week-long jury duty recently.  In the morning of Day 1, I was among a group of 30 people called to a potential jury panel. It was a criminal case; 12 jurors were needed. Step 1 is jury selection; the process was surprisingly long - a full day. 

Basically, the judge and the attorneys from both the defense and prosecuting sides asked the juror candidates questions. Based on the answers and further elaboration, the candidate group was narrowed down from 30 to 14 people (12 official jurors plus 2 alternates in case an official juror is not able to complete duties in the entire week).

My understanding is that the judge and the attorneys want to select a jury that will make important decisions (guilty or not guilty) based on evidence and facts and not on assumptions and biases.

Assumptions, biases, belief systems sit beneath observable behaviors and language, much like what sits beneath the top of an iceberg. They are like eyeglass lenses that we see things through. They can be subconscious or unconscious.

I was impressed with the creativity of the questions asked to explore and expose what's unconscious.

One of the questions asked by an attorney was: "If you had 2 kids. In the middle of the night, you hear cookie jar dropping. You walk over and see both kids standing by the jar with cookies all over the floor. Would you give the verdict that both kids are guilty of eating cookies?"

About 8-10 people raised their hands right away and kept their hands high while the attorneys and the judge wrote down their juror numbers. 

No elaboration was requested by the attorney on that question. I guess seeing the hands up alone was sufficient enough for the judge and the attorneys in that round of questioning. 

There was no evidence of either kid eating any cookie. Actually, the question didn't even indicate any cookie was missing - the attorney even re-stated that he didn’t say whether any cookie was missing.

Those who raised their hands made up their minds that both kids were guilty of eating cookies, without seeing the need to request further evidence.

How often do you think we experience thoughts and emotions based on something that’s subconscious or unconscious?

A team of scientists has discovered that several seconds (which is an astonishingly long time in the context of brain activities) before we consciously make a decision, its outcome can be predicted from unconscious activity in the brain. Decision-making may be a process handled to a large extent by unconscious mental activity (Nature Neuroscience, April 13th, 2008). Studies showed that only 10-12% of our mind is conscious, the rest is subconscious or unconscious (Theory of Mind, Dr. Kappas).

“Until we make the unconscious conscious, it will run our lives...” - Carl Jung

A few simple steps can be helpful in starting to work with our subconscious and unconscious: 

  1. Pause. Before jumping into a judgment or a quick decision, simply pause and stop the autopilot reaction, so that it is possible to recruit your conscious cognitive faculty.

  2. Reflect on awareness. Reflect and observe what's happening right now - are you rationally analyzing the situation or reacting automatically? What may be your underlying assumptions, beliefs, and biases?

  3. Ask how you could be wrong. Explore other options, ask what else is possible. If you could be wrong on this, how might you be? What could be the impact if you were wrong? What's the possibility that there isn't a fixed right and a fixed wrong in this situation?  When working in a group or team, you have an extra advantage to ask and challenge one another and come to the best decision as a team.

What's your experience with the unconscious? What tips can you share?