Seltzer defines gullibility as “. . .a person’s susceptibility to getting fooled, tricked, or otherwise manipulated.” Gullibility is contingent, in that its emergence is affected by several conditions – e.g., speaking to someone you’re trying to impress (someone in authority), or an individual with whom you don’t want to admit ignorance. From a personal survival and self-preservation standpoint, believing someone who signs your paycheck is many times in your best interests.
If there appears to be an inconsistency after sifting through the data, recipients of dishonesty tend to mitigate cognitive dissonance by rationalizing. In her article “Cutting Down the Dissonance: the Psychology of Gullibility,” Valhouli argues that two conflicting beliefs cause us to “selectively reinterpret data, reinforcing one of the beliefs regardless of the strength of the contradictory case” because this simply makes life for us easier.
In an unbalanced power relationship, we might be “programmed’ to “comply or acquiesce,” not to (1) challenge erroneous platforms; (2) ask questions; (3) verify important facts; (4) follow up with written correspondence; or (5) realize that in some cases we might have only have half a story. Relationships can be mismatched due to hierarchy, gender, age, and a host of other factors.
Seltzer argues that parents who are bullies may in fact be the problem – instilling their children with lack of self-worth, low self-esteem, and insecurity – making them susceptible to the suggestions of others – causing them to doubt their true convictions and to be lured into another person’s scheme. Targets of childhood emotional abuse are more likely to ignore their intuition, inner “warning signs” of potential disaster that tell them something is not quite right, that circumstances appear somewhat “fishy.” They are less likely to “to exert the skepticism that the occasion may demand.” Mercier in “How Gullible are We?” suggests that to guard against doormat status, we should speak softly and carry a big stick – in other words, prepare for war by letting others know you have the power to retaliate.
How can you demonstrate/develop a protective skin against potential hucksters?
- Demonstrate “epistemic vigilance.” A grain of salt can go far, particularly when we triangulate data sources, and “hold peoples’ feet to the fire” by asking lots of questions, not taking what they say at face value, and resisting duplicity from a slick exterior (like some sociopaths and psychopaths exhibit). As the old adage goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- Protect yourself with the written word. Dr. Kevin Leman (in describing only children) states “their word is their bond.” This tendency does not appear in all people, and certainly not in all only children. Following up yourself (or asking for written confirmation) will prevent any “misunderstandings” from occurring. From a Prisoner’s Dilemma purely rational perspective, it doesn’t benefit others to have someone else’s best interests at heart.
- Don’t be a sitting duck. The phrase “squeaky wheel gets the grease,” suggests that the path of most resistance receives the lion’s share of attention. If you as manager make catering to loudmouths your modus operandi, then only bruisers will feel satisfied. The meek need their say and to know that supervisors care. If you find yourself in a place where boisterous colleagues routinely hog the pulpit, cultivate the tendency to speak up. Just the mere suggestion of you saying something makes steamrolling less likely.
- If at any time you feel conflicted, Question Authority.