behavioral science principle #4

Information avoidance


Information avoidance is defined as any behavior intended to prevent or delay the acquisition of potentially unwanted information. You may enjoy that rich dessert more if you don’t know the exact calorie count, or feel more excited about your new TV if you don’t find out your neighbor got a better deal. But information avoidance can have negative consequences when it comes to important areas like your finances, health, and career growth.

Employees tend to avoid information that could benefit them—like feedback during a performance review or details of a new fitness program—because it could shed light on some areas of improvement they aren’t ready to address. It can seem counterintuitive, but it’s an instinct all of us have.

HR application

To combat information avoidance, author and employment lawyer Jathan Janove recommends leaders think of themselves as ski instructors. When learning how to ski, your natural instinct is to lean back, away from the perceived danger. A good ski instructor will tell you to do just the opposite.

“The close parallel between skiing and dealing with workplace problems struck me,” says Janove. “The manager or employee’s instinct to avoid confrontation is just like the beginner skier’s instinct to lean away from the downhill slope. Both arise from the mistaken notion that avoidance means safety. Yet, in both cases, the opposite is true.” Rather than solving workplace problems, the avoidance instinct makes them grow worse.

Encourage your employees to lean into hard things rather than away from them. And when you suspect a particular topic will trigger an avoidance reaction, consider alternate ways to communicate with your team that require active participation.

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