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Dangers of Thin Slicing July 23, 2010

Posted by Edwin Ritter in Grab Bag, Trends.
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A recent blog post led to a political flap over reported racist comments. The story was in the headlines recently about a Agriculture dept. official whose comments were posted by a blogger. This post got attention for a inflammatory comment. The blog post had legs, went viral and spun out of control at internet speed. The official reaction was swift and conclusive with the Ag. official fired by her  boss for remarks she made in the past before she had her current job.

Of the multiple aspects with this story,  the one that I want to stress here is the importance of proper context. As the thin slice of this story was first reported, the initial reaction from many, including myself, was of outrage and dis-belief. How/why  would she say such a thing? Well, it turns out there is more to the story. In fact, the thin slice of text was part of a learning, a appreciation she gained from working with this man.  And, that was her  point; the opposite of what was quoted. Some bad assumptions that drove our reaction :  that the blogger was right to call out this woman for her racist comments and that the blogger was credible and had a valid point. Not true – blogger was not right nor credible.

In some of the coverage I read about this incident, it also mentioned that the woman had befriended the man. Not only  friends with him, but also with his wife. Reading that, I thought – how odd. Why would they become friends with this woman after what she said? It became clear after hearing the full slice that put it into the correct perspective.

In our short attention span world, we have learned to make assumptions in order to thin slice information quickly. The most basic assumption on our part is that you, as the author, have correctly framed information – it is attributed correctly and supports or proves your point. We need a reference in order to process and sort through decisions, reactions in order to determine our next steps. However, the responsibility to slice it correctly within the proper context is still required. Otherwise, we make bad choices, reach incorrect conclusions.  And, our reaction does an about-face when we have the full story.

A major take-away for me  : Only thin slice from sources you trust.

Otherwise, I want corroboration from another source.

Don’t take my word for it. Check your sources, get it corroborated and let me know what you think.