Thursday, 27 August 2020 10:58

How We Filter Information

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As BAs we pride ourselves on our attention to detail, but what do we attend to and what are we filtering out?

We live in a world of Information Overload.  An incomprehensible amount of data is generated every minute of every day, but humans can only process so much, we simply have to filter most of the information we receive. Here are some of the common types of filtering we apply, and how they impact us and those around us.

Delete

A great deal of the information we see, read and hear simple washes over us, making no impression at all.

Example: If asked to summarise an hour long meeting, most people would:

  • remember some of the points discussed, but not all
  • mention some of the specific contributions made by others, but not everyone
  • cover the ‘jist’ of the meeting in about 2 minutes, max.

This is not at matter of recall and brevity, we have genuinely deleted most things that were said! Are we aware of the topics and people we routinely disregard? Sometimes there is a conscious thought of “this doesn’t apply to me” or “I don’t need to worry about that”, but more often than not we are deleting without realising.

If there are specific people who don’t get through this filter, what am I missing? How does that impact on them? How does it affect the relationship?


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Distort

Some things get through the first filter, only to be rewritten, reinterpreted or misrepresented by our brains. This is the different between “what you said” and “what I think you meant”.

It’s useful to test our assumptions and interpretations “What I think you are saying is…” or “So what I heard from that was…”  to give others the opportunity correct our distortions. Equally, when it’s important our message has been received as intended, we can ask for this information to be replayed. It is intriguing how people will playback what we ‘said’, using none of the same words!

Presenters will often summarise their point, or use a sign-posting phrase such as “so, what am I saying here?” to give the audience another chance to overcome their distortion filter and hear the information again, to test against what made it through the filter.

In our meeting example, the same meeting summarised by two different people may be unrecognisable, yet both are providing what they believe to be accurate information.

Generalise

Humans love patterns. We like to fit information into boxes which already exist in our minds. This can lead to missed opportunities, false assumptions, incorrect conclusions, stereotypes and bias.

We can try to catch ourselves thinking about “what we always do”, “what usually works” and watch out for use of hyperbole such as “always” and “never”, as they are rarely true.

Speaking to one customer or employee to canvas opinion is a dangerous way to make decisions, yet people often feel they have “consulted”, after doing just that. Big decisions need data-driven decision making. Do we have the evidence we need to support a decision? or are we just generalising and trading opinions?

Conclusion

We have to be able to filter information to be able to function on a daily basis. It is important to be aware of our filters, and how they may be impacting how we see ourselves, other people and the world. What am I missing? What am I focusing on at the expense of other things? Are my filters set correctly?

This is the mental equivalent of giving your glasses a clean every once in a while.

Christina Lovelock

Christina is an experienced BA leader, has built BA teams ranging in size from 5 to 120 Business Analysts and champions entry level BA roles. She is active in the BA professional community, attending and regularly speaking at events. Christina is an examiner for the International Diploma in Business Analysis and is also a director of the UK BA Manager Forum. She has co-authored the 2019 book, Delivering Business Analysis: The BA Service Handbook, which shares insights and findings from research into Business Analysis, practical guidance for BA leaders and case studies from across the professional community. https://www.linkedin.com/in/christina-lovelock

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